Video game wisdom and the road to publication

Breaking into the publishing business is no small feat. Perseverance and strategy are key, but video games—of all things—can offer unexpected insight, as Steven J. Kolbe discovered. Steven’s debut novel, How Everything Turns Away, is forthcoming from The Wild Rose Press. Please welcome Steven to Write Despite. Find him on Instagram @stevenjkolbe.

Some years ago, I became rather discouraged about my writing life. I read voraciously, wrote even more voraciously, and even chose creative writing as my college major. While I published a poem in high school and an interview with a U.S. poet laureate my freshman year of college, my accomplishments dwindled from there. A few years out of college, I began to doubt if this writing thing was going to happen.

Then my wife Susan did me a great favor. She convinced me to get a Wii. Now, I am not a gaming person. I played video games as a kid, but quickly my interests diverged. By middle school, I only played one if a friend really wanted to play—and then they would beat me miserably, of course.

However, as an adult, it was fun to return to the old world of Mario and Luigi, this time with fancy motion-sensor remotes. Around this same time, my friend Geoff, a New Orleans poet, introduced me to a website called Duotrope. This website catalogues different literary journals and magazines. It organizes them by genre, print or online, pay, and, most importantly, acceptance rates. Immediately, I realized my error. All the journals I’d been submitting to had less-than one percent acceptance rates. 

I had a revelation: What if I approached my writing career the same way one approaches a video game—not with the hardest level first, but the easiest? Looking through Duotrope and thinking about Mario Brothers, I had a paradigm shift. I decided to send my recent stories to journals with only high acceptance rates. It worked. I placed nearly all of them within a few months. After that, I took on slightly more selective journals, and so on. 

When it came to finding a home for my debut mystery novel, How Everything Turns Away, I checked out a copy of Writer’s MarketI chose a wide variety of agencies and publishers to send my manuscript to. In this way, I found The Wild Rose Press, an independent publisher with a wide range of authors and a stellar reputation. I began working with Kaycee John, who has been a lifesaver for my manuscript. She gave me copious notes on my sample chapters and has been working with me over the last year to take How Everything Turns Away from a manuscript to a novel.

‘Show Australia Some Love’: anthology aids wildfire victims

Please welcome author Sydney Winward to Write Despite. Sydney was among a spirited and caring cadre of writers from The Wild Rose Press who took part in an amazing fundraiser to benefit the victims of the 2019-20 wildfires in Australia.

It’s always inspiring to see writers–and publishers—using their talents to help others. Please check out the anthologies and lend a hand.

From Sydney:

Hi, Karen. Thanks for having me on your blog! Today’s topic is one filled with heavy loss and grief, and has broken the hearts of many. The Australian wildfires affected many people, even those not living in Australia. To see both people and animals lose their homes is heartbreaking. Thousands of homes burned down. Koalas, kangaroos, and other animals alike couldn’t find shelter or water, not to mention the millions of animals that lost their lives to the fires. It was awful and saddening, with a devastating, continuous impact on the country. It pulled on the heartstrings of not only the Australian people, but the entire world. 

Although most of us couldn’t be out there with the brave firefighters in their efforts to put out the raging wildfires, we found our own way to give back with our own unique skill sets. Stephen B. King, an Australian author at The Wild Rose Press, came up with the idea of putting together an anthology, whose profits would go toward the fires. The idea received such an overwhelming response that there wasn’t enough room to put everyone’s stories into one anthology, and had to be broken into three anthologies.

women’s fiction, thrillers, and mystery

My own story, Born of Fangs, is in volume three, a short paranormal story about two of my favorite characters, Willow and Adam, and the romance they share when love between a vampire and a human is frowned upon. It’s a bonus chapter after Bloodborn that I hoped my readers might enjoy.

I am humbled to be a part of the Australia Burns Anthology project with so many talented and compassionate writers. It warms my heart to have seen many people step up and come together to provide relief for those affected by the Australian fires. It’s amazing to see how much love the human race has for each other and animals!

Novel Cover Reveal!

My publisher has just revealed the cover for my forthcoming novel, “Arborview.” I really and truly love it. The designer captured the spirit of the book so well.

It’s a little nerve-wracking waiting for your cover, hoping that the publisher’s vision meshes with your vision, especially since the publisher — who’s paying for all this — has the final call! I couldn’t be more pleased.

Publication date coming soon, stay tuned…

Cheers,

Karen

A debut novel finds a home

Please welcome debut novelist Jacquie May Miller to Write Despite. Jacquie is a businessperson who’s now embarking on a second career as a novelist. She’s an inspiration for everyone trying to land that first book deal, and her novel’s got a killer title!

–Karen

Take it away, Jacquie…

Thank you, Karen, for inviting me to your blog. I am so excited to share my story with you and soon with the rest of the world. My women’s fiction novel, The Price of Secrets, will be released April 7, 2021.

My journey to publication took a little longer than most—I’m over 60 (not saying how far over)—but I’m as excited as I was when I published my first article in the Nosy Neighborhood News at age eleven. Perhaps that’s an understatement—I’m over the moon! It only took about fifty more years to land a contract with The Wild Rose Press. 

To be fair, I wasn’t trying for the first forty, I was using the left side of my brain managing my business. But about ten years ago, after spending most of my life making a living, I decided to make a life. I started putting words on paper, or cyber paper— scratches in a notebook, notes on loose scraps of paper, ramblings on my computer—that seemed to be forming a story.

With the help of my critique group, various writing classes and some wonderful writing conferences, my first draft was transformed into something worthy of publication.

Or was it?  After knocking on many doors, i.e., querying by email and pitching in-person, The Wild Rose Press answered the door. My editor opened it juuuust wide enough to ask me to consider a few changes, then gently closed it again. Her suggestions were correct and after a few revisions, I tried again, and the door swung wide open.

I am now a “Rose” in a garden full of welcoming authors. I couldn’t be happier to share my publication journey with the wonderful people associated with The Wild Rose Press, Inc. Thank you again for inviting me to your blog.

If you’d like to know more about me or my path to publishing The Price of Secrets, please check out my blog, www.jmaydaze.com.   

Wondering what you’ll find inside my book? Here’s a teaser:

When Jamie Crandall left Seattle for college twenty-five years ago, she was pregnant. Her mother demanded she have an abortion or get the hell out of Seattle and never come back. Jamie chose the latter, using her scholarship to UC Berkeley to disappear with the son she refused to abort. But now, twenty-five years later, everything has changed. Her mother has died, and Jamie is coming home to face the father of her son. Reuniting her son and his father will come at a high price though…Jamie has one more secret left to reveal.

Inspiration anyone?

Please welcome novelist Julie Howard author of the Wild Crime series, who’s new novel Spirit in Time debuts today. Julie is a former journalist and editor who has covered topics ranging from crime to cowboy poetry. She is a member of the Idaho Writers Guild, editor of the Potato Soup Journal, and founder of the Boise chapter of Shut Up & Write. Learn more at juliemhoward.com.

From Julie:

Ask a writer where their ideas come from, and most of the time they’ll shrug their shoulders. I often find it difficult to backtrack and discover the source for a book’s plot. More often than not, I point to a glimmer of inspiration, something so faint that only I can see it.

My new release, Spirit in Time, is set in 1872 in Sacramento, California. I lived there for about ten years and loved this historical and vibrant city, the heart of the nineteenth century Gold Rush and a terminus of the Intercontinental Railroad. Great wealth flowed through Sacramento and this time was the dawning of what came to be known as the Gilded Age. California had only recently become a state and Sacramento was a swampy area of land caught between two rivers. The city fell victim to frequent fires and floods in its early years. Ingenuity and fortitude were key in making the land livable and today a metropolis of 2.5 million people.

I had already established a series that features ghost-hunting blogger, Jillian Winchester. I knew I wanted the setting for the next book in the series to be Sacramento’s Gilded Age. But then, where did the plot come from?

It’s difficult to walk around the older part of the city without seeing glimpses of the past. Victorian mansions, old brothels, decommissioned rail tracks, a cemetery both eerie and beautiful. Maybe a ghost whispered: Pick me.

Usually, with a plot or character, something sticks in my mind and won’t leave. The story demands to be written – sort of like a song that lingers in your head no matter how you try to shake it out. In the case of Spirit in Time, the old Crocker mansion was this inspiration. Now a museum, the Italianate Victorian structure was built by the wealthy and powerful Crocker family in the late nineteenth century, along with a massive art gallery to house artwork they accumulated over the years. And yes, there are those who say the place is haunted.

The rest was easy. A ghost. A little time travel. A mystery to be solved.

Here’s a blurb for Spirit in Time:

“Time travel isn’t real. It can’t be real. But ghost-blogger Jillian Winchester discovers otherwise when an enigmatic spirit conveys her to 1872 to do his bidding. Jillian finds herself employed as a maid in Sacramento, in an elegant mansion with a famous painting. The artwork reveals another mystery: Why does the man within look exactly like her boyfriend, Mason Chandler?”

Morality and sin live side by side, not only in the picture, but also within her. As her transgressions escalate, she races the clock to find the man in the painting, and hunt down a spirit with a disconcerting gift. But will time be her friend or foe?”

Cover Reveal!

Friends,

We’re happy to share this Cover Reveal for author Shirley Goldberg’s new novel, Eat Your Heart Out, the second book in her “Starting Over” series.

–Karen 

From Shirley:

Two foodies, Dana and Alex, banter, sauté and tiptoe around each other. Except for the occasional smooch. What’s with that?  

I’m sharing more of Eat Your Heart Out’s details on my blog. Read the blurb and click this link https://midagedating.com/to read an excerpt. Too soon for links, but I’m looking for ARC readers, so please keep in touch. Publication date coming soon! 

Thanks to Debbie Taylor for her cover and the team at The Wild Rose Press for all their hard work! 

Blur for Eat Your Heart Out:

“When a tyrant in stilettos replaces her beloved boss, and her ex snags her coveted job, teacher Dana Narvana discovers there are worse things than getting dumped on Facebook. Time for the BFF advice squad, starting with Dana’s staunchest ally, Alex—hunky colleague, quipster, and cooking pal extraordinaire. But when the after-hours smooching goes nowhere, she wonders why this grown man won’t make up his mind. 

Alex Bethany’s new lifestyle gives him the confidence to try online dating. What he craves is a family of his own until a life-altering surprise rocks his world. He knows he’s sending Dana mixed messages. Alex panics when he thinks he’s blown his chance with his special person. From appetizers to the main course will these two cooking buddies make it to dessert? 

Funny and bittersweet, Dana and Alex’s story will have you rooting for them.”

Are beta readers worth the trouble?

Hello and welcome to the newly updated Write Despite. Cathy and I have finally given our blog a facelift. Yeah, it was long overdue. Please poke around the redesigned pages, take note of our tweaked mission statement, and share your feedback.

To kick off the redesign, novelist Randy Overbeck shares his take on the care, feeding, and invaluable contributions of early-stage readers.

–Karen

Take it away Randy:


I’ve spoken with a number of authors who have raised questions about beta readers. To clarify, when we say beta readers, we’re referring to readers who read an early manuscript, either in part or whole, and provide feedback. Some writers find these early readers unreliable, unhelpful, or sometimes even distracting.

For me, beta readers have been an integral part of bringing my manuscripts to fruition. Over the past several years, I’ve developed a process involving beta readers that has provided insights about my work I could never have gotten on my own. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons about what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to beta readers:

You’re going to need more than one. I’ve found it helpful to have several individuals respond to my early work. Over the years I’ve cultivated a cadre of 10-12 readers. Since I want to learn how different readers might respond, it’s helpful to solicit multiple readers. I often get different perspectives and varying insights. I’ve also learned that some beta volunteers don’t end up actually reading my manuscript; life gets in the way, and I understand that. Recruiting several betas insures I can get the feedback I’m looking for.

Beta readers don’t substitute for a writer’s critique group. My beta readers are not writers; they’re readers. I don’t ask my beta readers to check my grammar—though there is usually one grammar Nazi in the group who likes to do this—improve my style or check on my voice or tense. I ask them to respond as readers, to aspects like plot and character or setting. Did anything catch their eye or stop them in their tracks or interfere with their reading?

Beta readers need to know what you expect of them. When I share a section of my manuscript, I try to be very specific with what I want betas to respond to. Along with the pages, they receive a set five to six questions. (As a long-time educator, my habit of giving homework lives on.) Of course, one of these questions is always very open-ended, so betas can share whatever they want to say. My betas seem to appreciate the direction, and I usually get the feedback I’m looking for.

Like everything else in life, beta readers do best with a set timeline. I’ve learned that my beta readers respond better when I give them an expected date to complete their review, usually about two weeks. Some will read the manuscript in a day or two and respond immediately, while others will wait until the “deadline” to finish their reading and respond.

It’s important your readers aren’t simply “yes men.” (Please forgive the gender blunder.) When I recruit beta readers, I try to make sure I have readers who will not be afraid to give me bad news. “That scene did not work.” “That description was too much. I found myself skimming to get to the action.” I’m careful to receive their responses, especially critical ones, in a positive manner. I encourage my betas to be candid and let them know that’s why I’m giving them an advance peak at my writing.

When possible, I try to give beta readers a chance to come together and discuss their reading and responses. (This was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, of course.) Over the years, I’ve tried to arrange a get-together—usually after work at a quiet restaurant—for local betas. They seem to enjoy comparing responses and, once they start discussing aspects about the narrative, they often provide me more than what they’ve written down. Also, some betas simply like to tell me some things face-to-face.

I’m confident that insights from my beta readers have helped make my writing clearer, more engaging and more accurate. I acknowledged their contributions at the start of both my published novels. I wouldn’t dream of writing my next mystery without their feedback. And… I’m always looking for new beta readers, so feel free to reach out.

www.authorrandyoverbeck.com

randyoverbeck@authorrandyoverbeck.com

@OverbeckRandy

FB: Author Randy Overbeck

Welcome author D.V. Stone

Hello All,

Today we have a guest blogger. Please welcome novelist D.V. Stone. Her new novel, Jazz House, will be published in 2021.

D.V. has dabbled in many genres and published a slew of books. She’s got good advice including some seasonally appropriate editorial wisdom learned from a holly bush.

From D.V.:

I’m what is referred to as a ‘Hybrid’ author. This means my books are both traditionally and independently published. I’ve published work across multiple genres. But whatever story I’m telling, my goal is always the same: to bring hope to the reader. 

The authors and genres I’ve enjoyed over the years have, by turn, made me laugh or cry, or pushed me to the edge of my seat. In this spirit, I hope to do the same. I want my readers to sit and laugh, cry, scream, or just quietly contemplate.

So, what have I learned about writing and publishing over the years?

  1. Perseverance and patience are critical. People ask all the time, “When is your book coming out?” Writing is a long process for me. I still work full-time outside the home in a medical office. There is a countdown app in my phone ticking off the days until retirement. I have so many ideas and parts of manuscripts waiting—especially one, in particular, begging me to finish. 
  2. Disappointment and rejection happen. The submission process can be a blow to your ego. You start out with stars in your eyes because you think you have something great. Then the first rejection comes. Then the second. And so on. You’ve got to learn to roll with it. It’s all part of the process.
  3. Criticism and critique are important. Learn what you can from criticism and let the rest go. Don’t be a mule. If multiple people tell you the same thing about a sentence, structure, plot hole, or point of view issue, take a step back and really look at what you’ve got.
  4. Editing and change are often frustrating and tedious, but they either make or break your book. There is so much to learn/know. Sometimes painful decisions need to be made. Characters you love may need to change. Sometimes vastly. Whole sections may need to be eliminated.

I love sharing this story about my husband, Pete. It’s an apt metaphor for the editing and publishing process.

Pete has a love-hate relationship with a holly bush in front of our house. For years he’s tried trimming it to keep it under control, but the bush seems to have a will of its own. One day Pete had had enough. Grabbing a saw, he dropped to the ground and cut it down.

Funny thing, a couple of weeks later, green started sprouting from the stump. 

Editing a novel is like pruning a tree or a bush. In  that initial rush of emotion, words pour over the page. Cohesion and logic take a back seat to growth. But once you take a step back, the delete key becomes your surgical scalpel, and critique partners, your nurses. 

Sometimes my work is overwrought, and drastic steps need to be taken. Characters and scenes become casualties of the delete button. But the good thing is, if you have interesting characters, and are willing to listen and make the tough choices, your work can bloom beautifully.

Pete now carefully trims the bush to keep it from becoming the overpowering entity it once was. Not only is the holly healthier, so are the plants around it.

Karen’s new novel to be published in 2021

I have the most wonderful news. My new novel, Arborview, will be published next year.

Yes, you heard right. The contract has been signed. Final edits are underway, and so is the cover design. The Wild Rose Press, a well established and growing publisher, has purchased the rights, and I’m working with a super supportive and generous editor.

I’m still pinching myself. It’s a magical way to kick off the holiday season, and some good news to cap off a year that’s been so difficult for all of us.

I don’t have a release date yet, but it will be in 2021, and I’ll keep you all posted. While I’m on that theme, I want to thank the friends and colleagues who’ve helped me bring this book–which has been in the works for six years–to life. They know who they are, and I’ve got a hefty “Acknowledgements” section in the novel.

It goes without saying that Cathy has been on this ride from the beginning, through multiple revisions and moments of hair-tearing doubt. She is irreplaceable, and the best editor I’ll ever have. I’m not going to say I love her, because she already knows it.

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. You dig deep and push with all you have. Now we’re crossing the finish line.

It isn’t every day dreams come true. Thanks for being part of mine.

Here’s hoping the blessings of the holiday season–large and small–bring us all comfort this year.

–Karen