First Sale Stories: Sela Carsen, "Not Quite Dead"
Lynda: What’s the name of your first book?
Sela: “Not Quite Dead”
Lynda: When was it published?
Sela: August 15, 2006
Lynda: Which publishing house?
Sela: Samhain Publishing
Lynda: What’s it about?
Sela: It’s a paranormal romantic comedy novella featuring a zombie, a vampire, a ghost bitch and a high school guidance counselor! Ok, that sounds pretty kooky. Sabine Harper expected to spend the night curled up in front of the TV with a bowl of ice cream. No such luck. Instead, she has to go babysit her witch-wannabe cousin while the dimwit tries to raise the dead. It works. Well, kinda. Because no sooner does dead and dusty come busting out of his grave, a vampire starts flashing his dental work at everyone.
And the fun has just begun. The dead guy, Willem Breaux, turns out to be a real hottie once he takes a shower, but he’s bent on avenging his own murder, courtesy of said vampire and his former fiancée. He doesn’t plan on falling in love with Sabine. She doesn’t mean to fall in love with him. And nobody predicts what happens three nights later on the night of the full moon.
Lynda: What was the inspiration for the book?
Sela: I used to live in a tiny little town in central Louisiana that provided the blueprint for the fictional Robichaud. I was frustrated with the Regency I was trying to write and just started writing this funny little scene in a cemetery to take my mind off of it. The funny little scene just kept going and I never did finish that Regency.
Lynda: Is it part of a series?
Sela: Not really. I mean to write one other story about a secondary character, but his heroine hasn’t shown up yet.
Lynda: What do you like most about your main characters?
Sela: They take what life hands them with a sense of humor. They’re just funny people.
Lynda: What’s your favorite aspect of the book?
Sela: The humor. Definitely. Some lines still crack me up and I hope other people find them funny, too! I keep thinking of it primarily as a romantic comedy with paranormal characters.
Lynda: How long have you been writing fiction?
Sela: About four and half years. I distinctly remember it being a February morning in 2002 when I thought, “I should be able to write a book.” Hah!!
Lynda: Is this your first paranormal manuscript?
Sela: It is. It’s also the first manuscript I ever completed.
Lynda: Is paranormal your main focus?
Sela: Not necessarily. The romance is the focus. I just happen to write about some pretty unusual characters falling in love sometimes.
Lynda: What attracts you about the paranormal characters you write about?
Sela: How they deal with what they are. Even when they’re paranormal creatures set in a paranormal world, my characters are always a little out of the loop.
Lynda: How long did it take to sell your book, from the time you finished your manuscript?
Sela: It’s a convoluted answer. I finished the book in 5 months, which is like the speed of light for me. I’m a wicked slow writer. But then I sat on it for over two years. I knew what a hard sell novellas were for the print market, and the book still had some issues. I hadn’t done any rewrites or revisions at that point and I knew it needed them. Then I went to my first RWA and had a few friends lean on me HARD to get the revisions done and submit. I faffed about for a few more months before I finally did it and was promptly rejected. But the rejection, oddly, was a very encouraging one from an editor who is famous for her no-nonsense attitude. She said I had a cute concept and good pacing. That was all I needed to keep going! I submitted it to an agent who judged a Romance Divas Opening Line Contest, but that didn’t work out. Then I started researching e-publishers. Samhain Publishing had just opened its doors and I took the plunge. About three weeks after I submitted, they accepted it.
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?
Sela: It depends entirely on the publisher. I think it’s incredibly difficult for a first-time author to find an agent. Even harder to do that than to find a publisher. For me, it would have been close to impossible because I write short and, while an agent is happy to find a home for a novella for a novel-writer who is already a client, not so much for a newbie.
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?
Sela: Realizing how difficult it would be to find the right home for this story. When I started, the only half-decent e-pub out there was Ellora’s Cave. There might have been others, but they were just starting out and e-pubs then, like now, were popping up all over the place and dropping like flies. I had one request NQD in a chat and I thought long and hard about it, then decided not to submit. Probably a good thing because they went belly-up a few weeks later. Samhain seemed like a good fit because they were starting out from a position of strength, as far as I was concerned. The owner, Crissy Brashear, already had a solid background in e-publishing. And I knew several of their newly contracted authors and knew they were also good writers. My editor, Angela James, had a lesson to teach me about sales numbers in e-publishing and I went for it.
Lynda: You don’t have to mention numbers, but did you get a nice advance?
Sela: Yes. Yes, I did.
Lynda: What was the process of revisions/rewrites like?
Sela: Not bad. My editor found all those places that I knew had problems and helped me fix them. Some flow issues, some pacing problems. Some places where people were fully dressed on one page and nekkid on the next without ever seeming to take off their clothes. *gg*
Lynda: What was it like, working with the editor at your publishing house?
Sela: Angie was great. Very patient with me, even when I asked the most bone-headed questions. And she’s incredibly sharp, too. She was able to pinpoint issues in scenes that I knew weren’t working, but couldn’t figure out why. She’s got a great “ear.”
Lynda: Do you have any words of wisdom for us regarding rewrites/revisions?
Sela: Trust your editor. Even small changes make a big difference. The first round of edits was getting rid of “garbage words” and physical anomalies like eyes traveling across the floor. Think about that for a second. Ick. But doing all that work up front made it easier to focus on the big picture during the next rounds of edits.
Lynda: Do you get a lot of help marketing your book, or do you have to do it yourself?
Sela: Samhain has a very active chat loop for its dedicated readers, which is great. And once ready, the stories are sent out to about 30 different review sites. But you also have to get on the ball and sell yourself to your public. Samhain puts out at least 5 new titles every week. Every. Week. Some weeks there are even more. As an author, you need to scramble to position yourself.
Lynda: What’s your best marketing advice?
Sela: Find a market that you’ve got an “in” with. My neighborhood has a women’s group that meets monthly. I brought some flyers to the last meeting and talked about my book and a little about e-publishing. Most of them had never even heard of e-publishing before and several were romance readers. I’m also a military wife. Actually, we’re now retired military, but I still have that connection. That’s another audience of people who may never have heard of e-publishing. I’m not afraid to speak in front of groups, though, and that may be a limiting factor for a lot of people. See, you can make the rounds of Yahoo groups and chats forever, but you run into the same people over and over again. I’m interested in finding new people.
Lynda: Did you have input about your cover?
Sela: Yes, I did. My cover artist, Vanessa Hawthorn, was very accommodating and easy to get along with. The first cover she sent didn’t have quite the impact I wanted, so we discussed it and she was able to implement the changes that made it what it is. I particularly love the model she used for Sabine.
Lynda: What are your writing plans for the future?
Sela: Finish the next couple of projects, then re-attack. My biggest hurdle is finishing the book, though. I’m too easily distracted.
Lynda: What advice would you give to all the pre-published writers out there?
Sela: Train your voice. Learn the basics. Learn how to write well. Grammar is important. Don’t be careless. Find your flaws and beat them out mercilessly. Find a CP or a crit group you trust and let them beat on your flaws. What’s left will be what survived the crucible. But don’t let people beat on you for no reason. Learn when to protect your work. Learn what’s useful and what’s opinion, and what’s sheer bloody-mindedness. I can’t show people rough drafts. Their opinions, even their encouragement, have too much impact on me then. I get the story done my way, then I ask them to help me put it through the wringer. Don’t take rejection personally. It’s a business. If you’re lucky, you can learn from each rejection. So, leave the body, bring the cannoli. Let go of getting that publisher for that story. Bring your determination to a new publisher or to a new story.
Lynda: How can readers find out more about you?
Sela: I have a website at http://www.selacarsen.com/
I have a blog, “What Was I Thinking?”, that I update frequently at http://selacarsen.blogspot.com/
And don’t forget that you can read more about NOT QUITE DEAD at http://www.samhainpublishing.com/notquitedead.shtml !