I’m excited to introduce Margaret Locke, an author who feels like an old-friend after just a few email conversations! Here, Margaret gets real about the independent publishing process and the challenges of just getting the darn book done. Begone, Procrastination Fairy!
She also tells us about her debut, A Man of Character. I love this novel’s premise so much, I wish I’d thought of it first (I have a feeling I’ll be saying that a lot about Margaret’s ideas)!
How long have you wanted to be a romance writer? When did you decide to write a book?
A very, very long time. Ha ha. I announced as a teen I was going to write romances—in part to stem the flak I got over my beloved genre, and in part because I really meant it. But it took me twenty-five years to actually give it a go. (I found some book idea sketches from my college days recently, but all they remained were sketches.)
Why now? Because my kids aged into full day school, and I needed to finally answer the question of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The head said “get a real job.” The heart said, “WRITE!” And here I am.
What inspired you to write this story?
My husband and I were on a date when I confessed what I most wanted to do was write romances. He said, “Go for it!” On the drive home, this idea suddenly popped into my head: What if there’s a woman who discovers the men she’s dating are characters she’d made up years ago?
I couldn’t stop thinking about that idea.
So even though I’d always assumed I’d only write historical romance, this first book had a mind—and a time period, and characters—all its own.
Describe your process for writing this particular book.
After blurting out that main idea to my husband (who, by the way, gave it one thumb up—it would have been two, except he was driving), I sat down at the computer the next day and sketched out the whole story, scene by scene, as if it were a movie playing in my head. It wasn’t as pretty or clean as an organized outline, but it worked.
As I wrote the actual story, I’d look down at the next scene notes to see what was coming up, and write from there. It was mostly a linear progression, writing from beginning to end. Until major edits happened, at least.
How long did it take to complete?
Longer than it should have. I wrote the first third in the fall of 2011. Then I set it aside. I got scared; who was I to write a book? I’d never had formal creative writing training, never written fiction longer than the occasional poem or short, short story.
That fear/anxiety manifested itself the form of the Procrastination Fairy, who waved her magic wand and paralyzed me for the next year. Yes, a year. Eventually I acknowledged if I were going to be a writer, I had to actually—get this—write. So I sat down in the fall of 2012 and finished the first draft of A Man of Character.
Of course, it was two more years of futzing around with it, making my own edits, getting friends to read it, starting a critique group to get writer eyes on it, sending it out to numerous agents, hiring a professional romance editor, etc., before I actually published.
Was this the first book you had written?
Did you work on simultaneous projects?
Kind of. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month in the fall of 2013—my first time as as NaNoer! I’d had a full draft of A Man of Character done and was tinkering/editing it, but set it aside that November, and banged out two-thirds of the draft of A Matter of Time (which I didn’t finish until October 2014—and then only because I said I couldn’t do a new book for NaNo if I hadn’t finished the old book!).
Then, in the fall of last year, while querying agents and such for A Man of Character, I likewise mostly set it aside for November and wrote a complete draft of The Demon Duke.
What was the rest of your life like while writing the book? Were you working? Raising kids?
I’m very blessed to have a supportive husband who’s happy to let me write, and who’s fine with earning the bacon while I do. (Yes, I’d like to earn bacon, too. Or really not—not a big bacon fan, but I’d love to sell enough books to a) pay for production costs and b) build up a small fan base of people who might actually like my stories.)
I’d been a stay-at-home mom (a misnomer; what mom ever wants to stay at home? Get me out and about! Interacting with other adults!) since my son was born in 2001. My daughter came along in 2006, extending the duration of my full-time SAHM hat-wearing. But once both were in school all day, I had time to write.
I’m not one of those people who can write in ten-minute increments, jumping in and out of the creative process. I need a good, solid hour—preferably two—in which I know I won’t get interrupted. By the evening, I’m usually too wiped to consider putting pen to paper (er, fingers to keyboard), so weekday mornings/early afternoons while kids are away are when I write. Which explains why my productivity has drastically dwindled this summer
How did you fit your writing into the rest of your life?
Not well. Like I said above, if I can’t get big chunks of time, I don’t do it. Often even if I do have big chunks of time, I don’t do the writing-related activities I ought to do. That Procrastination Fairy is pernicious, I tell you. However, I find myself involved in more and more writing-related activities and groups, so slowly, very slowly, I’ve built up a more consistent writing schedule. I’d like to say I write/edit every day from 9-2, but that would be a lie. Still working on the consistency thing.
Were you involved in a writer’s group?
Yes! Several invaluable ones. On the professional side, I joined the Romance Writers of America right away, in part to tell myself I really was doing this. I also joined the Virginia Romance Writers and the Beau Monde (for Regency writers), both of which are subchapters of the RWA. I haven’t had as much luck as I would like getting to the VRW meetings (most are in Richmond, which is two hours away for me, plus family obligations often mean Saturdays are booked), but the one I did attend in person was marvelous, and I met several Virginia writers with whom I’m still in good contact via social media.
The other fantastic group I stumbled my way into is the Shenandoah Valley Writers, a Facebook group composed of writers from up and down the Shenandoah Valley. Most of the interactions are online, but I’ve met a number of SVW peeps in person, and several have become very close friends. Also, I founded the SVW In-Person Critique Group (not the best name, but whatever), which brings local writers together once a month to provide feedback on each other’s writing.
Who gave you feedback as you worked through writing the book?
Certainly the SVW group mentioned above, but I also had friends beta read, and last spring hired a professional editor to help me whip the book into the best shape I could.
What kept you going through the process?
Chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Not kidding. But what encouraged me most was support from family and friends. I was smart enough to share the book with my cousin Joy first—she is the best cheerleader in the world. Plus, SVW peeps will pick you up when you are ready to chuck yourself and your manuscript in the river. So definitely support from others was and is key. Sure, actual writing you do alone, but that doesn’t mean you have to be alone on the journey.
Did you have a market in mind when you started writing the book?
Um, romance readers, I guess. In truth, I wasn’t/am not as savvy on the contemporary romance end of things, because my first love has always been historical. But that crazy woman-with-real-life-book-boyfriends idea just caught hold and I had to write the story.
For a while, I called it paranormal romance. Then, when researching romance subgenres, I realized the story really, truly best fit the descriptions for chick lit, in many ways. Only “chick lit” was a phrase apparently on the outs; “romantic comedy” is the new buzz word, so I read. So now I call it a magical romantic comedy—because paranormal romance makes most people think of vampires and werewolves (of which my book has none), and I wanted the chick-lit-esque/funny vibe to communicate itself right away.
How many submissions did you send out?
Eight in the spring of 2014. And it took a lot of guts and not a little bit of stomach churning to do so. All but one turned me down fairly quickly; the eighth waited until three months after I’d queried them to respond, but when they did, they wanted a partial. Ultimately, they rejected it, but having gotten that wee bit of positive reinforcement, I decided to do a Query Blitz in the fall of 2014. I queried somewhere around seventy agents. I got numerous rejections, three requests for a partial, and three requests for a full—all of which became nos, except for one, an agent who requested the whole darn thing, from whom I never heard again.
I’d also queried a number of small presses, and one of them offered me a publishing contract in December of 2014. Which leads into the next question…
What made you decide to publish independently?
I’d already been considering it as the rejections piled up. Independent publishing appealed to me from the “complete control” side of things—I wouldn’t be beholden to anybody else’s deadlines, I’d have complete control over the story, the title, the book covers, etc. But it also felt, I don’t know, safer? Like, if it didn’t go well, I could slink off into the sunset, my tail (and novel) between my legs.
When the small press offer came in, I was ecstatic; here was validation, here was that brass ring proving I was good enough that someone other than my friends and family actually wanted to see my story in print!
Except the small press was a digital press only. No paperbacks. And I desperately wanted to hold a book—my book—in my hands. I was tempted to go with the press, because they’d provide professional editing and front the editing costs. In the end, though, I just couldn’t give up the idea of having physical, tangible proof I’d achieved this life-long goal. Indie publishing became more and more appealing—so I went for it.
How did you decide to publish with Amazon?
Well, uh, they are the biggest name in the game right now. So it was kind of a no-brainer. Being indie, I can’t get my book into bookstores. And although I could/can get it onto other online platforms such as Barnes & Noble or Smashwords, I decided to tackle one platform at a time. Indie publishing, I’m learning the hard/long way, is not for the faint of heart. There’s an incredible amount to learn, all of which takes an incredible amount of time (and I’m sure I’m making tons of mistakes), so limiting myself to Amazon exclusively, at least at the beginning, made sense to me.
What was the biggest challenge of publishing independently?
So far? First, getting the word out about the book. The good news is, authors have opportunities like they’ve never had before to publish their books. The bad news is, authors have opportunities like never before to publish their books. We’re all out here crying in the wilderness, desperately trying to make our voices heard, while the rest of the world is drowning in traffic noise.
And second, getting people to take the book seriously. For one thing, I write romance, which some people pooh-pooh automatically. For another, I’m self-published. Many people still equate that with cruddy writing. And while I don’t claim to be the World’s Best Writer at all, I did go through all the steps a traditionally published author goes through (write book, edit book, submit to beta readers, submit to editor, edit and polish, submit to editor again, etc). But the stigma about self-/indie-publishing, while lessening, is obviously still strong, given the number of pregnant pauses, blank looks, and tight smiles I’ve gotten after telling people I published independently.
What were the benefits of publishing independently?
Freedom! Control! (Do those contradict each other?) I loved having complete control over my book. I could work on my own timeline (though having deadlines, I’ve learned, is crucial), craft the book exactly as I wanted, pick the cover and title I wanted, etc. I’m also free to do as much or as little marketing and promotion work as I want. And, of course, the time to publication is much faster. Had I gone with the small press, the book would have been out late this summer, at the earliest. Had I landed an agent, who’d then have to sell the book to a bigger publisher, it could have been one, two, three years or more before the book ever hit shelves (okay, virtual shelves), if indeed it ever did.
What was the process of getting the book ready for publication?
Write book. Edit book. Repeat editing process ad nauseum. Hire the fantastic developmental editor, Tessa Shapcott. Decide to quit writing after said editor gave me four pages of pretty major suggestions for changes. Do 90% of her suggestions anyway. Edit and proofread a zillion times more.
I also was extremely lucky to land the most extraordinary Joy Lankshear from Lankshear Design as my cover designer and my interior formatter. Joy and I had met online by chance, on Twitter, I believe, and gotten chummy over our love for BBC shows like Merlin. When I mentioned I was writing this book, she offered to do the cover—because, lo and behold, she was a graphic designer. A great graphic designer. I jumped at the chance, and absolutely love not only the cover, but the inside look and feel of the book. Without Joy, A Man of Character would look a lot shabbier!
What has surprised you most about the process?
How much there is to learn, and how little time there is to learn it. I see why these all used to be separate jobs; now, as an indie author, I have to not only write and edit, but I have to maintain an online presence on social media, as well as my website, and figure out how to promo. I have to seek out bloggers willing to review the book (and I am so grateful to the ones who’ve said yes!), bloggers willing to feature me (thank you, Romance Debuts), learn about blog tours and swag and book signings and conferences … sometimes I have to be that ostrich and stick my head in the sand, so that the Procrastination Fairy, who feeds on anxiety, doesn’t find me again for at least a little bit.
What would you change if you could?
I’d do more pre-publication publicity prep. I set my own deadline for publication in May, but didn’t fully appreciate how much time it was going to take to proof the final copies of the book, and proof it again, and again. I didn’t have a polished, finalized copy done in time to send it out to anyone in advance (beyond some local readers, who didn’t care if it was in Microsoft Word). I didn’t have reviewers lined up. I didn’t have promo materials designed, both online and physical versions. So I’d say that.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Don’t let naysayers stop you. Don’t let anxiety trap you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Do read a lot. Do learn about the craft. Do find a writing community, whether it’s an online group, several of you who meet in person, a professional organization, etc.
When I met one of my idols, Sabrina Jeffries, for the first time, she said, “Don’t write in a vacuum.” I never appreciated that advice as much as I did the day I held my book in my hands, and realized just how many people had helped make that day possible. My husband, my friends, my writing community, my editor, my cover designer and formatter, my online friends, my professional associations … without them, I would not be here. I firmly believe that. It really does take a village.
A Man of Character:
What would you do if you discovered the men you were dating were fictional characters you’d created long ago?
Thirty-five-year-old Catherine Schreiber has shelved love for good. Keeping her ailing bookstore afloat takes all her time, and she’s perfectly fine with that. So when several men ask her out in short order, she’s not sure what to do…especially since something about them seems eerily familiar.
A startling revelation – that these men are fictional characters she’d created and forgotten years ago – forces Cat to reevaluate her world and the people in it. Because these characters are alive. Here. Now. And most definitely in the flesh.
Her best friend, Eliza, a romance novel junkie craving her own Happily Ever After, is thrilled by the possibilities. The power to create Mr. Perfect – who could pass that up? But can a relationship be real if it’s fiction? Caught between fantasy and reality, Cat must decide which – or whom – she wants more.
Blending humor with unusual twists, including a magical manuscript, a computer scientist in shining armor, and even a Regency ball, A Man of Character tells a story not only of love, but also of the lengths we’ll go for friendship, self-discovery, and second chances.
As a teen, Margaret Locke pledged to write romances when she grew up. Once an adult, however, she figured she ought to be doing grown-up things, not penning steamy love stories. Yeah, whatever. Turning forty cured her of that silly notion. Margaret is now happily ensconced back in the clutches of her first love, this time as an author as well as a reader. Margaret lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with her fantastic husband, two fab kids, and two fat cats. You can usually find her in front of some sort of screen (electronic or window; she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s not an outdoors person). Please visit her at margaretlocke.com.
Margaret Locke’s Contact Links: