Book 1: Burning Caine
I started writing my first book (a YA dystopian) in the summer of 2019. Late in the summer, I switched to a single POV mystery with a romantic sub-plot, which gradually transformed into a full-on dual-POV romantic suspense, Burning Caine (BC). Finished it by January 2019, queried it.
Writing the Wait, Book 2: Shooting Caine
While I was querying, I worked on the sequel to BC. A lot of advice says don’t do that, because if you can’t publish the first book, or even if you do and it doesn’t sell well, no one’s going to pay you to write the second book. But in my head, BC was the first in a series. I designed the characters and subplots to support multiple books.
So, I started writing the sequel, tentatively titled Shooting Caine (see a trend?). In my head, I figured I was practicing my skills with characters I knew, whether the first one got picked up or not. To this day, I hold to that!
Querying results for BC
Well, querying taught me how much I didn’t know. Only one agent requested pages, and the rest was a steady stream of rejections.
Show don’t tell, huh?
Deep POV, what?
Romance beats, eh?
The editor for the one agent who requested provided thoughtful feedback. And I launched myself into a full re-write.
Then came March 2020. It was the start of the lockdown here in Canada, but almost as importantly, it was when I found the #RevPit community. Editors sharing advice and feedback. Query and page swaps. An enthusiastic group of writers all at roughly the same stage as me.
AND I WAS EXCITED!!
Little did I expect, but I was chosen by one of the editors, Miranda Darrow. We worked like fiends for two months to completely overhaul my book. Two rounds of developmental edits and a third round with copy edits. It was intense, but I learned so much! I am forever grateful to the entire #RevPit team and Miranda.
My Writing Group
But the real win was finding my writing group, the Pit Squirrels (Pit for RevPit, and Squirrels as a silly play on Pit Vipers). We got to know each other over Twitter, then set up a private group that remained active long after #RevPit ended. Support, advice, learning.
Many of us were at the same point in our journey, some having completed more books than others, many in different genres, one with multiple books published through Harlequin, and one self-published author.
Most agented authors and those who are seeking representation know the heartache of querying. Write a query of no more than 250 words to entice an agent to want to read your manuscript (with rules and format guidelines and a zillion websites telling you how). Maybe also a 1-page synopsis of the entire thing. If you’re lucky, an agent requests to read your work.
There’s a LOT of waiting. There’s a lot of “this didn’t pull me in” or “I didn’t connect with your writing” that could bring down the most confident of us.
I went through that process with BC. I got traction. Lots of requests for pages. But no offers of representation. Not a whole lot of feedback, but a few agents advised that it needed more sensory feeling, a more engaging mystery, or more fully-developed characters. All of my beta readers and critique partners would debate these points, but it just goes to show how subjective the industry is.
The thing is, an agent receives a portion of your book sales for a reason. They help with editing, concept, finding an editor and publisher. They’re doing WORK for the author. They need to feel confident it’s worth investing their time, because they (typically) aren’t actually paid for their time. If they don’t have an idea how to sell your book, they won’t spend that time.
And that’s completely reasonable!!
Writing the Wait, Book 3: <untitled, Caine 1.5>
While BC was querying, I decided to spend time practicing writing sex(y) scenes. Taking my own Shooting Caine advice, I began writing scenes between the two main characters from BC, as a “what happened right after BC?”
It helped to start with character I knew and that knew each other, so I could focus on that part of their relationship.
Somehow, that progressed into a 40,000-word novella with more than just sexy scenes.
Writing the Wait, Book 2b: Complete revision of Shooting Caine
So, with all the changes made to BC during #RevPit, some of the story in Shooting Caine had to change. Characters had different roles. The main story developed differently. There were new and deleted chapters from the original!! So, leaving Caine 1.5 to rest, I overhauled the entire outline for Shooting Caine and began re-writing it.
And that’s when I started to see it… a stronger voice. Stronger writing. More depth. More feeling! Yes, all that practice was paying off. I was getting better!
Book 4: The Reaper’s Gambit
September 2020. I’d just finished the RWA 2020 conference. So much learning and so much to think about. Brought up 3 times in sessions I attended:
Romantic Suspense is cold
And my thought:
Oh no! That’s what I write! No wonder I’m having such poor luck querying! Not only is it all subjective, but it’s hard to break into that market!!
Taking a step back from my Caine books, I started mulling over a different book idea. A flip comment I made about “Everyone deserves a HEA!” gradually transformed into “Even the Grim Reaper deserves a HEA!” And so The Reaper’s Gambit was born.
- September 2020: Conceptualizing, while I continued revising Shooting Caine
- October 2020: Outlining. Hardcore outlining! Even my CPs had a round with the outline, while I wrote the first chapter to get a feel for the characters’ voices.
- November 2020: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Butt-in-seat writing! I finished the month with just over 66,000 words and a full first draft. I did a fast draft, knowing that pieces would be added in later, including some of the Deep POV that didn’t make it in the first round.
- December 2020: A couple weeks of fleshing out the first draft, then a couple weeks of letting it rest while I CPed for friends.
- January/February 2021: Finish the manuscript and send to betas/CPs.
- March 2021: . . .
Querying The Reaper’s Gambit
March 2021 came around, and I did #PitMad. I was working through feedback and making my final revisions, so I threw my hat in the ring. I got some agent and small press likes, which was good. But my #PitMad tweets did really well, with over 200 retweets, so I was feeling the love.
I sent out a query to one agent and one small press, unsure whether I’d send to the others.
The agent came back right away with a rejection, saying she found the characters didn’t have enough personality. . . but I hadn’t sent her any pages. So, that meant changes were needed to the query and synopsis I’d sent!
Time to pause querying to fix those things up.
Query changes came and went, I got some more requests, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Where was my heart, you may ask? Well, I think I’ve gone on long enough . . . I’ll save that for another day.