Thursday, February 25, 2010

Amy Dawson Robertson on Publishing Her First Novel: Miles to Go

Member Amy Dawson Robertson is a native Virginian and graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis. She lives in the Washington DC area and her writing interests include genre fiction, short stories, and graphic novels. She creates strong female characters in action-packed stories drawn on current events. Here she is on getting started writing and publishing her first novel, Miles to Go. Find her online here.

Though my early writing interests tended more toward literary fiction, I knew that I needed a better understanding of the basic mechanics of fiction. Unfortunately, I hadn’t heard about The Writer's Center yet. As a kind of self-directed workshop I decided to write a genre novel. I figured that a plot-centric work would be the ideal vehicle for learning to handle point of view, description, dialogue – all of the fundamentals. It turned out that I was engaged by both my characters and my plot and worked the novel until it was in the best shape I could make it. I thought, Why not try to sell it?

At first, I went the traditional route of sending off query letters to agents. Much too easily discouraged after a few form letter rejections, I contacted The Writer's Center for help on my query letter and synopsis. Working with Barbara Esstman and Noreen Wald improved my submission package dramatically. Unfortunately, I was still unable to gain representation (though I admit giving up fairly quickly). Becoming more aware of the publishing market, I understood that my novel, an action thriller with a gay heroine, was not going to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. So I focused on submitting directly to small presses known to publish gay genre fiction. That did the trick. In November 2008, Bella Books contracted Miles To Go, the first in The Rennie Vogel Intrigue series. The book was released this month.

There are many pluses to working with a small publisher. I was lucky to have Katherine V. Forrest – a true icon in the genre – as my editor. Writing in a niche genre brings with it a very dedicated built-in audience who are hungry for new titles. And it doesn’t hurt that I am actually in a niche within the niche since the predominance of titles are romances and mine is an espionage style thriller.

These days publishers – small and large – are putting less and less money into promoting an author’s work. A small fraction of books and authors are still heavily touted but the rest of us, especially those of us at small presses, are left to fight for attention in a media saturated world. But what opportunity there is now for direct marketing! I am on Facebook, Goodreads, Library Thing, Filedby, Shelfari, She Writes, Yahoo Groups, Delicious – the list of social networking opportunities is seemingly endless. Now if only they weren’t so time consuming that I could sit down and write that next book...

Though I still crave to write the perfect short story, I am having fun with my thriller series. And who knows? It may just turn out that it’s where my strength lies. I would recommend that writers trying to sell their first novel should investigate where it best fits into the market and then develop their pitch strategy from there.

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