Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Road to Success from Atlanta RWA 2013

It’s taken me almost a week to recover from the RWA national conference in Atlanta. The conference was amazing. The speakers were awesome. And the opportunities for networking were astounding. I had a great time and I learned a lot. While I came away exhausted--because the days were long and the nights were short--I also came away recharged and encouraged about the book industry and my place in it. Maybe it’s because I went into this year’s conference with a different energy and expectation that I got more out of it. But I think it was more than that, too.
R8 Members: Evie, Me, Lisa, and Keely

The landscape is entirely different than it was even a year ago. The most popular workshops seemed to be those directed at learning about indie publishing. There were still our old favorites: regular spotlights on traditional publishing, craft-oriented workshops for beginner to pro, an arena sized book signing for traditionally published authors, PAN workshops, pitch sessions, and networking parties. But this year RWA shifted the focus slightly and allowed indie publishing to take a place at the table. Successful indie authors shared their secrets about their success and RWA sponsored a book signing & giveaway for indie authors. The energy was high, and the mood was collaborative and positive.

The clear message? This is the best time to be a writer because of all the options available to us. We can traditionally publish, we can publish with a small press, we can publish with an e-publisher, we can indie publish, we can hold our digital rights and sell our print rights, and so on and so on. Or, we can be a hybrid author who does all of the above. If we want. We have choices. Writers hold the power card.

The trick is knowing what you want. What brings you the validation that you require to continue writing what you want to write? Is it seeing your book in print? Knowing that readers are reading it? The distribution? Is it being able to make a living from your book sales? There’s a lot of self-discovery necessary these days to make your way in the book industry. You need to know what you want and why you want it. But if you’re honest with yourself and willing to work hard and write, write, write, there are no limits, and there’s no single pathway to success.

 Have you thought about what success looks like for you? When will you know you've arrived?

If you attended RWA Nationals in Atlanta this year, what was your favorite part?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Scratch and Sift

How familiar is this? You attend yet another writer's conference, and the keynote speaker has just regaled the audience on how she wrote her breakout first novel, which of course not only became a bestseller, but also launched a movie franchise. She tells us that she'd never written before, except maybe a sweet little article for a parenting magazine. But one morning, after a pitiful night's sleep due to 3 sick children and a dog that ate her husband's socks, she awakened with the entire plot for the book. Complete with sparkly skin. And she's never read books about leprechauns, either.

It had just come to her.

Maybe she was also down on her luck, living on food stamps, and one dream later, she's wearing Prada to walk the dog. She demurs, she giggles, she tells us we just have to pay attention to our dreams because an absolute fabbie story is just waiting to pop out with the morning bowl of cornflakes.

I don't know about you, but I find these inspirational stories kinda depressing, and more likely to send me to the gentle comfort of cheesecake and vodka than to my notebook. Because Ima Bess Eller didn't mention the seven drafts that she went through or the edits her editor demanded just to make the book saleable. No, as far as I know, that best seller was birthed from her forehead like Athena springing from Zeus. And perfectionist that I can be, I don't want to start something that doesn't arrive fully written.

This week, I signed up for a design class taught by WeeksRingle. In the intro, she mentioned Twyla Tharpe's book, The Creative Habit, and shared Ms Tharpe's idea of "scratching". Chickens walk through the yard - at least the free range ones do  - scratching for corn. They don't know for sure if there is grain. Sometimes they pluck up a pebble or stone. But they still continue to scratch and sample, seeking all day long for something tasty.

Like chickens, artists, choreographers and yes, even writers, must learn to be continuous scratchers, living in the expectation of the spark of an idea. And then not to be bound to that idea, either, because sometimes an idea is simply the doorway to the next one. 

Back in the day when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was in high school, my creative writing teacher had us read. All the time. To see how other writers handled words, conveyed ideas. We looked at theme and cadence, at conflict and arc. Then we would do writing exercises. My writing teacher had no expectation of any story or poem arriving fully formed. Nor was every idea that we scratched about with meant to become a completed story. I can't tell you where the transition was made in my mind. Perhaps my procrastination forced my perfectionism's hand, or vice versa. But I love the freedom in trial and error, even if I haven't the patience always for gathering and trying and drafting and thinking. But I think my writing will only get better if I allow myself to just scratch about and see where an idea might carry me. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Yes, You Really Are Special

This week the Rockville 8 is honored to welcome NYT best selling author Cathy Maxwell. Her latest book, The Devil's Heart, is available in stores now!

Cathy gave the closing talk at our local chapter's retreat this past April, and I'm thrilled to be able to share her wisdom with you here.

Thank you so much for joining us, Cathy!


Yes, You Really Are Special

gift noun \ˈgift\
1: a notable capacity, talent, or endowment
2: something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation
3: the act, right, or power of giving
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When my friend, the writer Felicia Mason speaks to student groups, she will ask, “Who hears stories in your head?”

Several hands will go up.  Not many, but a number.  Felicia will point out that those who raise their hands are the storytellers and although it may seem simple to them to weave tales, it is mystery to the rest of the world. What they have is a gift they are born with.

And the gift for story telling, just like any other innate gift such as a talent for math or athletic ability, needs discipline to be developed. That means that of the small number of students who raised their hands, maybe only one will become a writer.

I admit, “discipline” is one of those more-than-four-letter words that annoys me. It has taken me years to come to terms with it—and I admit to far too many relapses.

So, if you are storyteller who longs to share your stories, here is a thought or two on how to develop DISCIPLINE:
  1. You don’t need to write the whole story in one sitting.  Books, scripts, any writing always begins, for me, in fits and starts.  A good sentence can make me happy.  One sentence leads to a paragraph and then a page.  Sometimes, to help my concentration, I’ll set a timer.  I bargain with myself—let me give fifteen minutes to the discipline of writing and then after that, I can go do something else and I’m not picky what that is.  I burst out of my office like a fifth-grader on the last day of school.
  2. Recognize when your best creative time is and then use it.  There is no point in forcing a night owl to rise with the sun to write. Or vice versa.  I’ve discovered my best writing time seems to start at one in the afternoon and last until six.  After that, I’m shot.  So why battle my natural inclinations?  Oh, by the way, I used to write first thing in the morning, but my creative clock changed.  Sometimes it resets for the a.m. I roll with it.
  3. Good books are in the rewrites.  I run into people who believe the first draft is the product.  Not so.  The first draft is to fill blank pages and develop a story arc.  It is like a big, ugly lump of clay.  Once I have an idea of where I want to go, then I can finesse.  And finesse.  And finesse again until I have it right/write.  
  4. Goals help.  I have daily writing goals and monthly writing goals.  I have used critique groups, workbooks, software programs, voodoo, and sage burning to help me achieve them. Fortunately, I’m competitive enough that goals work for me.
  5. You aren’t going to be happy until you try.  The stories will keep swirling inside you.  I did mention this is a gift?  That means it is unique to you.  It was born inside you and is part of what you have to offer the world.  Please, don’t back away from it.  Embrace it.  Using your gift isn’t about becoming a mega-millionaire writer (trust me, there are easier ways to earn money that story-telling).  It is about bringing yourself into the fullness of your being.  This is one of the many things you can offer the world that others can’t.  It is worth the exploration . . . and the discipline.  Trust me.

Cathy Maxwell has been in publishing over twenty years.  Over the course of those two decades, Cathy has written over twenty-five historical romances, hit the New York Times and USA Today lists, been nominated for and, occasionally, won some nice awards, made dynamite writing friends, and has had the time of her life.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Long and Winding Road to being Brand New… again.

This week the Rockville 8 welcomes Emelle Gamble! She's been an invaluable resource for me, personally, and I am thrilled about her new book, Secret Sister, hitting the virtual shelves. You can find her at and on facebook at


On Wednesday, July 10, 2013, Secret Sister by Emelle Gamble will go on sale at Amazon.

It's  my first new book for sale in over a decade. I won’t bore you with the details of why this is (but it is spelled L-I-F-E), but let me say that, while it's just as exciting now being a ‘new author’ as it was the first time,  it’s also a lot more nerve-wracking and challenging the second time around.

In my past life as Harlequin Intrigue writer M.L. Gamble, when I got a new  idea for a book (always the ending first, then the title), I’d get a thrilling, chilling little ‘pop’ of excitement inside my head. Sharp inhale. I knew the creative process had begun.

Very soon after that I’d begin plotting, outlining, and note card noting…The evenings saw the first pages blooming on my computer screen, the next weeks would find me bundling those exciting ‘first three’ chapters off (surely they were perfect) to my critique group. This would be followed by hearing from my honest, supportive and encouraging critique group that the chapters were, in fact, not perfect. So I wrote and rewrote, suffered middle book malaise, last chapter loathing, and re-evaluation jitters, but completed the first draft. And the second draft. And the fifth draft.

A few days before the contract deadline (most of the time) I printed the whole thing out on paper. Addressed a big-ass envelope. Drove to the United States Post Office. Bought postage and insurance (“It’s a manuscript, I’m a writer.” This sentence was always worked into conversation with the postal worker). Watched the now impressed (surely) postal employee throw  the package in a bin, giddy with the knowledge it was going to end up on my New York Editor’s desk in 48 hours.

Over the next few months, after a couple of exchanges of edits, and proofed copy checks, art approval (which meant saying, “Yes, I like it” even though my concept of a hot guy on a motorcycle turned into a psycho bowler - see If Looks Could Kill cover), the creative work was done.

Then four to six months later there would be a knock on the door and you’d get a box of books. Beautiful books. Your books. This was the reason for the long hours and hard work.  (The reason you lived!)

Exhale. Delirium. My book will be read, my story will be shared. I’m a new author.

Now, ten years later, the creative process hasn’t much changed, except for the fact it’s done electronically instead of on paper. But everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING else has changed.

Though I am still contracted with a publisher, albeit a smaller one, in this new publishing environment I immediately discovered that there was much, much more I had to do to give my new book a chance of success. For many publishing houses now no longer support authors as they did in the Wizard of Oz olden days when I was at Harlequin. Publishers expect you, as an author, especially a new author, to not only write a great book, but hunt down your prospective readers and introduce yourself..

On behalf of Secret Sister, I’ve personally contacted over twenty review sites with email pitches for review consideration. I’ve asked friends, family members, and fellow authors to read an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) and consider posting a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, and have offered to spend the time required to read others’ books and return the favor.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours working with a pro to set up a website, without a pro to set up a Facebook Author page, a twitter account, a Goodreads Author account. And a blog. (Worth the ten hours it took figuring that out just to see the look on hubby’s face when I explained what a blog was. HA!)

I’ve designed storyboards to help create a book trailer and put it up on YouTube. I’ve talked to half a dozen local book sellers, three librarians, and two newspaper columnists about Secret Sister. I’ve spent money on a website, book covers, copy editors, and a top notch review/ARC giveaway site, Netgalley. I’ve spent money on a Facebook ad campaign and a Goodreads ad campaign and a publicity Blog tour campaign with a highly recommended company named Goddess Fish Promotions. (And I have the surreal Paypal receipt for the IRS to prove it!)  I spent money on an ‘expert’ social media consultant who advised me to do everything I’d already done. And frankly, I have no idea if any of this effort is going to result in my finding an audience for Secret Sister.

Which brings me back to Wednesday, July 10, 2013.

Exhale. Delirium. My book will be read, my story will be shared. I’ll be a new author.

Secret Sister by Emelle Gamble is a romantic novel with a paranormal twist. It came to me (with that thrilling, chilling little pop of excitement) when I thought of a single question… “  What if everything about you changed, would your true love recognize you?

It’s a contemporary story set in Southern California about Nick and Cathy, happily married. And Cathy and Roxanne, best friends forever. It’s about faith and friendship and true love, secrets and lies and the ties that bind. And an extraordinary twist of fate.

It’s a brand new book from a brand new author in this brand new world. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Watch the Secret Sister trailer here.