I’m delighted to introduce Jenna Sutton, author of All the Right Places, a book described by RT Book Reviews as “a great start to a promising series!” In this post, Jenna is like your new best friend who generously and patiently answers all your questions about writing and publishing a debut novel. After reading her interview, you’ll be seeking out bumper stickers every time you drive to Target!
How long have you wanted to be a romance writer? When did you decide to write a book?
I’ve always wanted to be a romance writer, I just didn’t think it was something I could do… or be, rather.
I wanted to write a romance novel for a long time before I actually sat down to do it. I’ve been a lifelong romance reader, and at one point, after finishing a book that I found less than satisfying, I said to myself, “I could write a better book than that.”
I now recognize how arrogant and naïve I was. By thinking that, I not only invalidated the author’s hard work, but I also gave myself too much credit.
A lot of people think they can write a book. A lot of people want to write a book. But most of them never actually do it. For years, I was one of those people who thought I could write a book and who wanted to write one. Every year when it came time to list my New Year’s resolutions, I always had the same ones, and WRITE A ROMANCE was on that list, right behind EXERCISE MORE.
On January 3, 2013, I received an email from Media Bistro advertising a romance writing class with best-selling author Sarah MacLean. I saw it as a sign that I should finally stop thinking and talking about writing a book and actually do it.
What inspired you to write this story?
I have a lot of ideas floating around my head because I see inspiration everywhere. I know that sounds cheesy, so please forgive me. But the truth is, I can find something interesting in the most boring of subjects. That might be because I have been a journalist for nearly 15 years, and I’ve had to cover topics that aren’t inherently “sexy” and find something interesting to catch a reader’s attention.
Here’s proof that inspiration can be found anywhere: the idea for ALL THE RIGHT PLACES came from a bumper sticker. My husband and I were coming back from a shopping trip to Target (which receives at least 10 percent of our annual household income, no kidding), and as we sat at a stop light, I noticed the bumper sticker on the car in front of us. It advocated breast cancer awareness, and it said: Save the Tatas.
I pointed out the bumper sticker to my husband, and he pointed out that there are a lot of words for breasts. And then he oh-so-helpfully proceeded to name them all: boobs, hooters, jugs, melons, rack, tits… oh, the list just goes on and on.
And then I started thinking that there were a lot of words for butt, too: ass, backporch, badonkadonk, booty, caboose, derrière… again, so many words, so little time.
That thought led me to another – listing the synonyms for butt would be a fun beginning to a romance novel. But who would be thinking about butts all the time? And then it came to me – someone who was involved in the clothing business.
And the most popular clothing for butts? Jeans.
It just so happens that I attended a conference on small cap companies while reporting for a business magazine several years ago. I sat next to a Wall Street analyst who focused on apparel companies. Over a lunch of rubbery chicken, I got a crash course on designer denim and the impact small apparel companies were making on large jeans manufacturers. Companies like Levis, Wrangler, and Lee are having a hard time holding on to market share. They’re losing customers, and they’re trying to stay competitive and relevant.
That’s how I came up with the idea for the idea for series, and the characters quickly took shape after that.
Describe your process for writing this particular book.
I know most writers don’t outline because they feel it stymies their creativity. I get that. But I need an outline. I’m a plotter, not a pantster. I know how my books will end before I even type the first word. Of all my books, ALL THE RIGHT PLACES had the loosest and least detailed outline. With each book, my outlines have become more and more detailed. The outline for my current WIP is nearly 50 pages.
How long did it take to complete?
I wrote ALL THE RIGHT PLACES in roughly nine weeks. That doesn’t include the time I spent revising it to get the manuscript ready for submission to publishers or time I spent revising it to my editor’s specifications. Fortunately, those revisions were not extensive and probably only added a couple of weeks to the overall time investment.
Did you work on simultaneous projects?
No, I worked exclusively on ALL THE RIGHT PLACES. Now, however, I work on several projects at once, but they are in different stages. For example, I only work on one book that is “in process” or incomplete. The work I do on other projects is revisions or copyedits. That may change in the future because I hope to increase my production.
What was the rest of your life like while writing the book?
I was working full-time while I wrote ALL THE RIGHT PLACES. In fact, I planned and hosted the biggest event of my career during that time frame: a webinar for 1,000+ people. I still do some freelance writing for a few business-related magazines.
How did you fit your writing into the rest of your life?
I wrote every day, but not because I carved out time to do it or even that I made it a priority. ALL THE RIGHT PLACES had been stuck in my head for a long time, and when it started to come out, it came out fast. If the manuscript were a baby, I wouldn’t have made it to the hospital in time. I would have given birth in the car on the way!
Were you involved in a writer’s group?
Kind of. I took a novel writing class that lasted 12 weeks. I met my critique partners through that class.
Who gave you feedback as you worked through writing the book?
The instructor and everyone in the class provided feedback on the premise of ALL THE RIGHT PLACES and the first few chapters. Some people loved it; some people didn’t like it much; some people thought it sucked.
My core group of critique partners provided feedback for the entire book, as well as the two other books I wrote after ALL THE RIGHT PLACES. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having critique partners. Let me add a word to that sentence: I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having amazing critique partners. My CPs take on many roles throughout the writing process. They’re idea generators, cheerleaders, educators, reality checkers… As you can probably tell, I love my CPs.
What kept you going through the process?
I had to get Quinn and Amelia’s story out of my head, and that’s what pushed me forward during the writing process. But after the manuscript was done, I started thinking about what to do with it. I didn’t expect to find an agent or get a book deal. I thought I would end up self-publishing ALL THE RIGHT PLACES. That’s when my husband, mom, sister, and critique partners encouraged me to query agents (and by encourage, I really mean bully). I gave myself a deadline – if I didn’t land an agent by a specific date, I planned to move on and self-publish. That deadline kept me moving forward… that and the fact that I had ideas for second and third books.
Did you have a market in mind when you started writing the book?
I primarily read contemporary romance, so I wrote what I knew and liked. To be honest, I never really thought about writing to a specific “market”. But now I am much more aware of the nuances within the romance genre and where my books fit into the marketplace. My books are much, much hotter than the typical contemporary romance, and I lacked self-awareness in this regard.
Did you work with an agent? How did you find him/her? In what ways did the agent help with the process?
I have an agent. Her name is Beth Phelan, and she’s with The Bent Agency in NYC. She’s awesome. She has a website with her wish list, and she’s actively accepting queries, so if you’re in the market for an agent, you should check her out.
I wouldn’t be a published author without Beth. She made everything happen for me. Throughout this entire process, she’s had my back, and she’s spent more than a few minutes talking me off the ledge… because every author has “on the ledge” moments, not just debut authors.
I found Beth through the typical querying process. A lot of authors make contact with agents through conferences and other events, but I queried agents via email. And this is where I feel compelled to say: your query letter doesn’t have to be clever or witty or awesome to get attention. Mine was straightforward and pithy. And it got the job done. About 80 percent of the agents I queried requested a partial manuscript, and I had multiple offers of representation.
How many submissions did you send out?
My agent submitted my manuscript to nine editors who she thought would be the most interested in my work.
Who’s the first person you called?
I called my husband first and got his voice mail. The same thing happened when I called my mom, my sister, my two best friends… I had this fabulous news to share and no one answered the phone! Finally, after I sent out a group text, my husband called me back. That night, we celebrated with food and drink. And there may have been kissing, too, but I can’t confirm that since I’m not the kind of gal who kisses and tells…
What happened between hearing your yes and getting the book to print?
It took 15 months to get my book into readers’ hands. That doesn’t include the time it took me to write the book, find an agent, get it ready for submission, and for editors to review for possible acquisition.
A lot goes into publishing a book… a lot more than I expected. And I’m sure I only know a small percentage of the effort involved. There are a lot of steps required to bring a manuscript in a Word document to a published work, digital or print. I’ve been very, very lucky to have a wonderful editor and a fabulous team of professionals who’ve worked hard to make sure my book is the best it can be, inside and out.
What has surprised you most about this process?
A couple of things. First, the amount of time it takes. There’s no immediate gratification in publishing. My husband says publishing “moves at the speed of slug”. I agree with him. I’m not an impatient person, but I do like to get things done sooner rather than later, and I’ve had to adapt to the very lengthy process.
Second, the amount of luck involved. Maybe luck is the wrong word. Timing might be a better way to describe it. If I had queried as soon as I finished my manuscript, then the timing might not have been right for Beth to bring on a new author client. And if my manuscript had gone out at a different time, my editor might not have been interested. She might have been looking to acquire another type of book.
What would you change if you could?
Like a lot of people, I sometimes have “what if” moments. But then I stop myself because that’s a black hole that sucks you in. You get trapped there and can’t move forward.
That’s why my answer to this question is: I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve learned things about myself that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I have a better sense of my strengths and weaknesses, and I’m smarter and stronger now.
The simple truth is that I am blessed to be a published author. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
When Amelia Winger gets a gig designing accessories for denim empire Riley O’Brien & Co., it’s a dream come true. But she isn’t quite prepared for sexy CEO Quinn O’Brien. She’s doing her best to keep things professional, but the attraction sparking between them makes it personal. And so does the secret project she’s working on behind his back…
Quinn’s not interested in the new accessories, but he is interested in the woman designing them. Mixing business and pleasure isn’t wise, but that doesn’t stop him from coming up with excuses to spend time with Amelia. He thinks he understands the risk he’s taking when he gets involved, but he doesn’t know he’s risking a lot more than his heart.
Jenna Sutton spent most of her career as an award-winning journalist covering business-related topics including healthcare, commercial real estate, retail, and technology. Nowadays she writes about hot, lovable guys and the smart, sexy women who make them crazy. It’s the culmination of a lifelong dream, and she feels so lucky to be able to do it. Jenna has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Texas Christian University and a Master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University. She and her husband live in Texas in a 103-year-old house affectionately known as “The Money Pit”.