First Sale Stories: Jenna Black, "Watchers in the Night"
Lynda: What's the name of your book?
Jenna: Watchers in the Night
Lynda: When was it published (or when will it be published)?
Jenna: October, 2006
Lynda: Which publishing house?
Lynda: What's it about?
Jenna: Here's the book description from my website: Carolyn Mathers hasn't had a real date since her fiance, Gray James, disappeared mysteriously on the night of his bachelor party. Not convinced by his "Dear Jane" letter, Carolyn insisted on investigating his disappearance until she was forced to leave the Philadelphia police department. Now a private investigator specializing in missing persons, she thinks she may finally be ready to give Gray up. Until the night he waltzes into her life once more. Gray had a good reason for leaving her. On the night of his bachelor party, he was bitten and transformed into a vampire. Always on the razor's edge of control, he has stayed away from Carolyn for her own good. But now, Gray must learn how to trust his new self, for Carolyn is on the tail of a vampire serial killer, and Gray may be her only defense.
Lynda: What was the inspiration for the book?
Jenna: I'd just read a "reunion romance," and I was irritated by a trend I'd seen in many of them. In many romances of this type, the hero abandons the heroine without a word sometime before the book starts, and the book starts when they are reunited. Invariably, the reason the hero left without a word is unsatisfying to me--it's either because of some misunderstanding, or some deep-seated immaturity on his part. So I started wondering what kind of explanation a hero could give that would satisfy me. And I figured if he got turned into a vampire, I could understand him leaving, and I could understand him doing it without an explanation.
Lynda: Is it part of a series?
Jenna: I hope so! The second book of the series is on my editor's desk.
Lynda: What do you like most about your main characters?
Jenna: I love Carolyn's stubbornness--her refusal to take no for an answer, and her refusal to give up hope. And I had a great deal of fun writing about Gray's angst. While in my world, vampires don't have to kill people or even drink human blood to live, the kill is always a lure. The killers are stronger, physically and psychically, than the non-killers, so Gray is always at war with himself, fighting against temptation.
Lynda: What's your favorite aspect of your book?
Jenna: My favorite aspect is probably my vampire characters. I've put them all in such a difficult situation. They're trying to fight against older, more powerful killer vampires, so they're perpetual underdogs.
Lynda: How long have you been writing fiction?
Jenna: A really, really long time. All right, I'll fess up--I've been writing seriously (meaning trying for publication) for 16 years.
Lynda: Is this your first paranormal manuscript?
Jenna: Not by a long shot. I started out writing fantasy and science fiction, then switched to romance. I'd written a couple of other paranormal romances before this one sold.
Lynda: Is paranormal your main focus?
Jenna: For the moment, at least. I also write romantic comedies, but I haven't made a sale in that genre yet. However, I think paranormal will always be my favorite because of my start in science fiction and fantasy.
Lynda: What attracts you about vampires (or whatever persuasion your paranormal characters might be)?
Jenna: I've always been fascinated by the internal struggle between doing what you want and doing what's right--sort of the struggle against your id. I think vampires (and werewolves) are perfect illustrations of that struggle. For them, the id is almost a separate being, residing within themselves. It's a tangible way to write about an intangible subject. My vampires are always struggling to control themselves, to retain their humanity. But the life of the killer vampire can be very appealing--they live without remorse, in a state of total selfishness, where other people are nothing but food. (Sort of like Luke resisting the call of the dark side of the Force.) It's a mythic theme that has a very broad appeal.
Lynda: How long did it take to sell your book, from the time you finished your manuscript?
Jenna: Honestly, I couldn't tell you. By the time I finished Watchers, I had so many books under submission that I wasn't keeping that vigilant an eye on any one of them. Besides, I'd been at this long enough that I was sick of looking at the response times and agonizing over them. I was in a "submit it and forget it" frame of mind.
Lynda: Did you have an agent when you sold your book?
Jenna: I did have an agent, which of course meant that the response time was a lot shorter than it was during my many unagented years.
Lynda: Do you recommend that a pre-published writer focus on finding an agent first, or do you think it's OK to submit directly to the publisher?
Jenna: I think either way can work, but it sure is nice to have that agent. Before I was agented, I often had to wait more than a year to get a response from publishers, and I didn't simultaneously submit. Once I got my agent, she'd submit to five editors at once, and usually got answers within about two to three months.
Lynda: What was the process of revisions/rewrites like?
Jenna: It was mostly painless. My editor suggested a number of changes, but all of them were relatively minor and easy for me to make. They also made the book stronger, which is why they were so painless.
Lynda: Did your agent suggest changes?
Jenna: My agent made very few suggestions on this one, though she has offered more extensive feedback on other novels of mine.
Lynda: What was it like, working with the editor at your publishing house?
Jenna: It's been wonderful. Having heard horror stories about revision letters requesting massive, story-altering changes, I was terribly nervous about the whole process. I was so relieved when I received my revisions from my editor! Of course, I'd also heard horror stories about situations where the author doesn't agree with the editor's comments, so it was a relief to read what she had to say and realize she was right. I have a pretty pragmatic approach to the business, and would have been willing to make changes even if I didn't agree with them, but I was glad not to have to face that decision.
Lynda: Do you have any words of wisdom for us about revisions/rewriting, etc.?
Jenna: I'll get myself in trouble by flouting conventional wisdom, but I'll say it anyway: stop rewriting and don't revise repeatedly. Yes, I know, everyone tells you to polish your manuscript until every word shines, but you know what? Your editor will still find things to change. And it's very possible to shine the life out of your manuscript. I've seen it happen. Concentrate on the "big picture"--the characters, the story, the pacing. Don't obsess over every sentence and word choice. For me, getting out of the revise and rewrite mode is what made the difference between all those manuscripts I didn't sell and the one I did.
Lynda: Were there any surprises for you about the contract you signed?
Jenna: No. I'd educated myself to a great extent about contracts, so I knew what to expect. I even took an online course about them--a course that was offered the month after I made the sale. (Cue Twilight Zone music.)
Lynda: Do you get a lot of help with marketing your book, or do you have to do most of it yourself?
Jenna: I don't know about this one yet. My book is still nine months away, so I wouldn't expect any marketing help yet. I've done a lot of work on my own on my website (www.JennaBlack.com), and have been doing everything I can to promote it. I am prepared to put as much of my own time into the marketing as necessary, but I'll definitely discuss where my time is best spent with my publisher when it's closer to the release date.
Lynda: Did you have input about your cover?
Jenna: My cover isn't done yet, so it's hard to say. I was asked for input, which I gave, but I'm not exactly an artist, so my ideas may have stunk. I'm anxiously awaiting the cover. I've really loved most of the Tor Romance covers, so I'm expecting it to be great.
Lynda: If you could go back and do something differently, what would that be?
Jenna: I'd change the way I handled the first 14 years of my career! I used to write only when the mood hit me. I thought I was being a serious writer and was working really hard, and in a way I was. I wrote 7 novels in those 14 years, and I submitted them all. Some of them came close to being bought, but they never were. Then, almost 3 years ago now, I decided that I could work harder. I rededicated myself to writing and vowed that I would write every single day and that I would stop going back and revising a million times. I wrote more novels in that first year than I'd written in the previous 14! And I learned a lot more, too. More than that, I finally snagged an agent and was on the road to publication.
Lynda: What would you do exactly the same way?
Jenna: Mostly what I've been doing the last three years. I'll probably never have as insanely good a writing year as I did that first year when I rededicated myself--I still can't quite believe I completed 8 novels in one year! But it's amazing what you can do if you write every day without fail and you don't do tons of revisions. The ideas flowed more freely, it became much easier to lose myself in the story, and I didn't sweat about the rejections quite so much. I'm not as slavish about it anymore, but I still plan to continue writing prolifically and often. And if I don't sell every book I write, well, at least I'm keeping the wheels turning and my imagination running wild.
Lynda: What's your next manuscript about?
Jenna: Right now I'm working on a paranormal that's a combination of the myth of Cupid and Psyche with the legend of Blackbeard. My hero is an invisible man who may or may not be a serial killer who marries women for their money and then murders them.
Lynda: What advice are you willing to give to all the pre-published writers out there?
Jenna: First and foremost: don't quit. You hear that advice a lot, but it's the best piece of advice out there. Watchers in the Night was the 18th novel I'd completed. If I'd decided to quit when my common sense told me I couldn't do it, you can bet I never would have sold.