First Sale Stories: Rowena Cherry, "Forced Mate"
Lynda: What’s the name of your first book?
Rowena: My first book was "Forced Mate," and although the title was thoroughly appropriate, it was widely misunderstood. Readers who wanted a violent book were disappointed. Others were deterred by what they assumed it was about.
Lynda: When was it published?
Rowena: It was published in 2004 (twice).
Lynda: Which publishing house?
Rowena: The now-defunct NBI published the SFR version in May 2004 (for about a month, before going into belly-up hiatus) and Dorchester Publishing’s LoveSpell imprint brought out the futuristic romance version on election day, Nov. 2nd 2004.
Lynda: What’s it about?
Rowena: Some call "Forced Mate" an alien abduction romance with a twist. It’s a futuristic take on the myth of Persephone and the god of the underworld. A dark ruler of an interstellar superpower abducts his perfect mate, never dreaming he’ll fall in love.
Lynda: What was the inspiration for the book?
Rowena: There was no one idea or one single inspiration. I had a primeval stew of ideas in the back of my mind and some catalyst twisted them into “life.” That sounds coy, doesn’t it? Before we left Germany (I’m English by birth, but I married an American who worked for an international company) a publisher of an American automotive magazine empire told me that I ought to Write, based on my Christmas letters to friends and family, which were somewhat… creative. I didn’t have the courage to start sending out draft novels, until some years later I read a book that gave me what I might call a Diamond Dogs moment, to quote David Bowie. “Oh…. I could do better than that!” I sang in my head. I do that a lot… usually it’s 1970’s or 1980’s rock lyrics –just like Djetth, hero of "Insufficient Mating Material." Of course, I was wrong. I hadn’t learned my craft. I couldn’t write a page turner. I had the literary equivalent of verbal diarrhea, and a tendency to leave noticeable info dumps in unsubtle places. I still think the stuff I research is fascinating… but I might research 50 pages of background about where my hero or heroine went to university, why he—or she-- chose that particular college, what he/she studied, what clubs and societies he/she joined, and only use five lines of it. Characters, especially alpha male heroes and villains fascinate me. When the first Star Wars came out I found myself wondering what Darth Vader would be like in bed. There was a recurring dream inspired by something I’d read in my childhood where a dark character named either Number One or Numeral One hunts the hidden heroine. And, my favorite author’s Regency and Georgian Romances had a few over-macho villains whom I would have loved to take in hand. Back to "Forced Mate." I thought it would be cool to portray a romance as a chess game, and perhaps have every chapter subtitled after a chess move or piece or position. In the end, I had to drop the subtitles, which is a good thing, because I may need at least six good chess titles for the rest of the series. The title, "Forced Mate," is taken from Pandolfini’s end-game position where there are the two Kings and a few pawns. The first King to make a pawn his Queen wins. It seemed appropriate.
Lynda: Is it part of a series?
Rowena: Yes. I’ve now written three “alien djinn romances” and there are more to come. And they are: "Forced Mate," the short prequel "Mating Net" which is about the greatest mistake of Empress Helispeta’s life—which, depending on your point of view was either getting into bed with the wrong god or else getting out of it--, and the sequel "Insufficient Mating Material."
Lynda: What do you like most about your main characters?
Rowena: So far, my favorite characters are the males, but that might be about to change. They are all very different, but all are powerful, dangerous, complicated and witty. I love to fantasize about them, but I’d probably be scared witless if I met them in a dark alley, no matter how handsome they are.
Lynda: What’s your favorite aspect of the book?
Rowena: I am afraid this will sound pretentious. I love to write a book that is like an onion, not because it stinks or because it makes you cry, but for the invisible layers I like to build up, so that if you were to read one of my books a second time, you might see something you hadn’t noticed the first time.
Lynda: How long have you been writing fiction?
Rowena: With intent to sell? About 15 years. I started writing in 1992, just about the time that paranormals and especially futuristics fell out of favor in the marketplace, but this was to be the book of my heart, so I wasn’t concerned about chasing a market that was spiraling into a booksellers’ black hole.
Lynda: Is this your first paranormal manuscript?
Rowena: Yes, but it is really futuristic, not paranormal. I write about god-aliens, rather than vampires, were-beings, shapeshifters, or magical beings.
Lynda: Is paranormal your main focus?
Rowena: Alien hunks are. I’d like to include more mystical and psychic elements such as the Tarot, Runes, mind-reading, dowsing, aura-seeing et cetera, but my editor encourages me to concentrate on getting aliens into steamy situations.
Lynda: What attracts you about the characters you write about?
Rowena: Their wit, gentleness, intelligence, physical self control, power… that’s not what you meant, is it? Like a lot of novice writers, I guess, I yearned to write The Ultimate Hero. I quickly realized that he would have to be an alien god-Prince or god-Emperor because, I am a former student –and sometime teacher-- of History (as well as English) and I didn't feel comfortable about taking liberties with real historical figures. I felt no such inhibitions about Darth Vader types... or indeed in expanding broadly on Erich von Daeniken's theory that all our ancient gods and mythological heroes were aliens.
Lynda: How long did it take to sell your book, from the time you finished your manuscript?
Rowena: It took me about eleven years, but I passed over three potential sales during that time.
Lynda: Did you have an agent when you sold your first book?
Rowena: No, but I did use an intellectual properties attorney to negotiate the contracts I was offered, and to make sure that the version I signed was right for me and fair to me.
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?
Rowena: That’s a tough decision, because of the Catch 22 that many publishing houses won’t look at unagented authors, and many agents won’t look with great interest at unpublished authors. An author does not NEED an agent. An intellectual properties attorney will check a contract for a one-time fee. So will various author unions and associations. RWA and EPIC have good examples of fair contracts. The best way to submit directly to a publisher is to final in a respectable contest where the editor of your dreams is the final round judge. Failing that, if you are great at The Pitch, are editor appointments at conferences and conventions. To find out how to submit to Anna Genoese or where to stalk her (her words) visit her blog
http://alg.livejournal.com/profile where she shares this information. http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/peald.htm
Lynda: Thinking about the notion of “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” what was the lowest point in the process for you? Was there a time you almost gave up?
Rowena: I’ll tell you when I hope I would: writing isn’t the love of my life. My husband is. My child is. I can only see myself neglecting them to a certain –trivial-- extent. Now, the housework…that’s another story!
Lynda: You don’t have to mention numbers, but did you get a nice advance?
Rowena: I can’t remember why I was surfing the net, but I think I saw a chart recently explaining what “nice” means. Apparently it is anything from $2,000 to $49,000. That puts the question into perspective, doesn’t it? LOL!!! (Not at you, Lynda, at the industry.) Here are two great links which explain advances and what it costs to publish a book:
Lynda: What was the process of revisions/rewrites like?
Rowena: I’m the type to enjoy the challenge of trying to take a certain number of pages out of a book. Taking out 200 is less than fun, though, because a few favorite scenes are going to have to be cut entirely. Sometimes, it’s lonely. The most recent page you wrote is not necessarily the best, but it is terribly tempting to believe that all revisions and rewrites are better than the original. It can be frustrating if you are the sort of author who can write any scene from any point of view, and can model a crucial scene to fit really well in four or five alternative places in the novel, and then can’t decide which is the best place. There’s a limit to how often you want to show variations of the same scene to your best friend… Unless you are paying her! The accepted view is that a scene should be in the POV of the character who suffers most, or failing that, the one who knows the most.
Lynda: Did your agent suggest changes?
Rowena: Agents vary. Some agents have editorial expertise, and some specialize in other areas. It is important for an author to have a good professional relationship with both editor and agent. For me, I think an agent who suggested changes might be a distraction, unless he/she is in perfect agreement with the editor.
Lynda: What was it like, working with the editor at your publishing house?
Rowena: Wonderful. Intellectually stimulating, fascinating! I love it…mostly. The first time was the toughest, because I was hurt that someone would disagree with my spelling, punctuation, grammar. As it happens, at least half of the time, I was correct. I’ve worked with five different editors… maybe six, because I’ve worked privately with freelance editors Karen Babcock Karen@karenbabcock.com and also Karen MacLeod KMacLEOD323@aol.com
Every editor is different, and so is every author. Some telephone, some email, some may even write letters. I’ve come to realize that editors don’t want a lot of choices about how their suggestions will be carried out. Any revision that rewords a confusing passage, makes the villain badder (bad grammar intended), or explains a reference to the heroine’s past is going to be better than the original.
Lynda: Do you have any words of wisdom for us regarding rewrites/revisions?
Rowena: No one knows a book like its author. If an author disagrees with an editor’s suggestions she should stand up for her vision, as long as she has a good explanation why this detail should be kept, and why that otherwise cool editorial suggestion would not work.
Lynda: Were there any surprises for you about the contract you signed?
Rowena: Sorry. I just have to make a smart-ass remark. If there were unpleasant surprises, I shouldn’t have signed it. If you don’t understand your contract, pay someone to help you understand it. Don’t sign away all your characters, if you’ve already got an e-book prequel out there with those characters in it…. (that involves about 12 changes to the standard boilerplate).
Lynda: Do you get a lot of help marketing your book, or do you have to do it yourself?
Rowena: It’s probably smart not to expect much help from the publisher of your first book, especially not for the first book that might be a one-off. The less you expect, the happier you will be. Check out Anna Genoese’s blog to understand the maths.
Lynda: What’s your best marketing advice?
Rowena: Carla Arpin (super publicist for Linnea Sinclair) and sexy, paranormal author Sahara Kelly, and witty Dorchester author Marianne Mancusi all report that a site on MySpace.com has been amazing—and cheap—promo. I don’t go there because some of my books are a bit on the adult side. I like what The Romance Studio does for me firstname.lastname@example.org. I think membership for an author is around $2.50 a month. Other sites I really like are Romance Junkies www.romancejunkies.com because they have over a million hits, and Cat Brown is so wonderful to work with, but not cheap. Fallen Angel Reviews is another site with great presence, and a fabulous reviewing staff in my opinion www.fallenangelreviews.com And then there’s MyShelf, www.myshelf.com which is also highly trafficked and easy to work with. I shouldn’t really mention so few sites. I know I have forgotten some wonderful ones. Oh, and if you have $200 to spend, everyone I know swears by a print ad in RWA’s Romance Sells.
For free, chose a good signature file, that says something about you or your book, and how to find it (your own website url). Do not quote homespun philosophy from great thinkers of the past. Most lists allow 4 lines or so of tag line and moderate promotion of other types. Join chat lists—and I have to thank EPIC president and promo genius Brenna Lyons for some of these tips, because I’m not a great chatter—look into: ebookChatters ; enchantersloop; FallenAngelReviewChatters; karenfindoutaboutnewbooks (Karen Simpson runs Coffeetime, which is a great site with some very innovative promo services and ideas, but not cheap) ; Novelspotters ; RomanceJunkiesReaders ; paranormalromance.com… the latter is the group that votes for the PEARL awards. Join before December for your vote to be counted on favorite books for 2006.
Wherever you go -- and this is my best and most delicate marketing advice-- remember that you never know who is watching you and reading your posts. You only get one change to make a good first impression.
Lynda: Did you have input about your cover?
Rowena: For "Forced Mate," I felt myself lucky that there was a chessboard put in. I pretty much did my own covers from a photograph of a hunk for the e-"Forced Mate" and for "Mating Net." For "Insufficient Mating Material," I was horrified when I saw it, although it was –and is— a very attractive cover. I was asked to send the art department descriptions, and scenes that I thought might work, and I did. My editor kindly explained that I could not have a bare-chested hunk because of some stores’ delicate sensibilities about such sights. So when I saw a couple rolling around with no clothes on in the surf, I was dismayed, nay horrified, and not a little indignant! If I were a promotion genius, like the author whose cover sported the heroine with three arms, I could have done something best-selling with it. But I’m not, and as a reader, I feel cheated when I buy a book on the strength of the cover and the scene that attracted me to the book in the first place is not IN the book. With a mere couple of months to final editing, I decided that I was going to have to write a sex scene in the surf. It is not something I have ever experienced, and not something I really want to experience… it’s not legal, anyway! So, off I went with my darling husband reluctantly in tow (because he hates cold water more than my Princess Marsh does) to an ocean and sandy beach, to go as far as I decently dared for the sake of my art.
Lynda: Have you done any book signings? If so, what were they like?
Rowena: The worst book signing (from a signing books perspective) was at a local public library. No one came! The only books sold were one author to another. However, I was sitting next to Kathleen Nance (who also writes about djinn, though hers are more the traditional genii type), and we brainstormed the difficulties of writing the sort of romance where the hero and heroine are marooned on an island together. From a creative perspective, it was a very profitable afternoon. Another really embarrassing booksigning was off-site in conjunction with a Romantic Times convention. Far too many eager authors were crammed into a small Mall bookstore in alphabetical order. There is always an up-side. Cherry was next to Dees with Greyle on the other side. Dees was gracious enough to tell me how she manages to write a polished book in six weeks. The down-side was that the upper end of the alphabet was behind a propped-open swing door, and the line of enthusiastic autograph-seekers—which ran out the door and halfway down the main concours-- made straight for the Ks in the alphabet. At the end of the afternoon, those of us who had sold pathetic amounts, bought up half the inventory of our books (boxes of them) to prevent them from being stripped, and signed the rest, hoping that would encourage the bookseller to hand-sell them.
My best book signing was at the Romantic Times Book Fair in St Louis in 2005. In 2005, my publisher sent a sensible quantity, I’d had the convention week to promote and distribute excerpts, and I sold out within the first hour, which was fabulous… not because I was able to leave (!) but because I was able to enjoy meeting readers who wanted to stop by my table without a trace of embarrassment about the fact that I was there with something to sell, because with an empty table I had nothing left to sell. I’m shy. Can you tell? Therefore, book-signings aren’t my “best” forum. I never seem able to think of the right things to say—or to write in the book. Authors who are really good at book-signing, like Jennifer Crusie or Linnea Sinclair, are amazing to watch.
Lynda: If you could go back and do something differently, what would that be?
Rowena: I could give you all sorts of examples… such as talking about how I painted myself into a corner not only by publishing a family tree but by putting in dates and not checking my arithmetic, and by immortalizing far too many names beginning with Dj (the D is silent, but now I have to explain that in every book!). Apart from trying not to break rules, the most useful change I’d make is that I would have decided where "Forced Mate" ought to end, kept "Forced Mate" to 80,000 words and written not one but TWO books before I started entering contests and submitting.
Lynda: What are your writing plans for the future?
Rowena: I’m writing the enigmatic Rhett’s story at the moment, but at some point I must give Djohn-Kronos of "Mating Net" his own happy ending.
Lynda: What advice would you give to all the pre-published writers out there?
Rowena: Persist. Network. Enter contests for the advice you will receive. Write gracious and positive thank-you notes to your anonymous judges, even if you don’t particularly agree with what well-intentioned critics are telling you. Start your future mailing list early (always with the consent of your correspondents) so that you will have friends when you need them…when you are getting the word out about your forthcoming release. Lock in your own name for your website before you become famous. You do not want to have to be www.theofficialyourfirstnamelastname.com.
Say “thank you” often and as graciously as possible.
And with that, I would like to say a big Thank You for your time and interest today to everyone reading this, and to Lynda for giving me this delightful opportunity to talk about myself and "Forced Mate"… and about my January 31st release "Insufficient Mating Material."
Lynda: How can readers find out more about you?