Friday, May 18, 2012

Making money flow to the writer--Kathie DeNosky knows how

Standing at the ironing board pressing Gerald’s short-sleeve summer shirts this afternoon, I mulled over last night’s Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting and re-enjoyed it.

Our president Cindy Gunnin gave us a very helpful handout and a brief update on a young writer who recently not only had her anthology essay totally changed in serious bad ways but was then scolded by the scam publisher from whom she had planned to buy copies.

Cindy introduced us to James D. Macdonald’s advice, which came about when he became angry over an agent taking advantage of a novice writer. Macdonald called this Yog’s Law, and this rule is one that every writer should hard wire into his/her brain: Money flows toward the writer. That simply means that if anyone ever asks for money to publish you or to be your agent, you know that person is a fraud and not to be trusted.

Not being a science fiction/fantasy reader, I was unfamiliar with the names of Macdonald and his wife Dr. Debra Doyle or the titles of their many books, but actually I had read about some of his efforts to protect writers from unscrupulous publishers and the so-called agents and editors who prey on our desire to be published. Just googling and surfing a bit made me want to know more about these two authors. (Although I read little fiction, I like to know about real people, such as Macdonald and Doyle.)

Cindy Gunnin’s handout was the perfect segue into introducing Kathie DeNosky, our evening’s speaker. Kathie is the author of more than 30 romance novels with a world-wide reading audience who has sold over 30 million books for Harlequin. A life-long resident of Southern Illinois, this former housewife definitely has money flowing in the right direction to allow her to live on her writing career income.

Kathie was generous in sharing her experiences. She spoke of both the bad and good in her life as a well-known writer. (Some negatives were weight gain and shoulder damage from all the keyboard time and getting letters from inmates, which finally caused her to ask to be on the FBI’s no contact list.) Obviously the good outweighs any disadvantages for her or she would not keep writing. It was plain to me that accomplishing her goals has demanded intelligence, talent, perseverance, focus, flexibility, and hard work that many of us lack. I came away impressed not only with her work ethic and determination, but also with her humor, warmth, and the meticulous research that has not only pleased her publisher but earned fans from around the world. I am not a romance reader although I did read her first two books, and they are on the book shelves with my collection of local writers’ books. Again as with Macdonald and Doyle, I found myself delighting in coming to better know this real live writer who is even more fascinating than her created characters.

Kathie admits that when she is up against a deadline and is putting in fourteen-hour days, she gets what she calls “deadline dementia.” She had just the previous morning completed two books she has written since the middle of February. At this point, Cindy reminded Kathie that she had also revised a book during that same exhausting time frame. Now Kathie has until sometime in August to complete her next romance, and she made it clear she is happy to anticipate a slower pace, which will allow her to do some living in addition to writing.

During the eight years she struggled to learn her craft, she wrote four or five romances and collected a slew of rejection letters while doing so. However, once her first book was accepted twelve years ago by Harlequin, she has been in constant demand by them. She quickly secured an agent and turned all time-consuming negotiating over to him. She told her editor then that this opportunity was one she craved and she was willing to work hard to continue producing for them.

She has done that—even through the long illness of her late husband, Charlie, who in her earliest years had served as her business manager. Despite caring for him with medical procedures that I know must have been time-consuming and demanding, Kathie said she kept turning out the contracted books her publisher wanted. She usually writes at night when the phone is not ringing, and if anyone rings her doorbell, she doesn’t intend to answer it anyway.

She knew writing would have to be her career and means of support after she lost her husband, and she forced herself to sit at the computer and turn out books through this difficult time. (Her youngest child had just graduated high school when her first book sold, and although she had enjoyed teaching craft classes in folk art and basket weaving at a local store, she did not want to depend on those skills for her living.) I would imagine writing was also a means to escape the sadness that her husband’s illness caused her.

She admitted the only time she has not written in the twelve years since her first book was published was after his death, as she found it very hard to write of romance when she had just lost the love of her life. Also she was suddenly plunged into the business end of her writing, and she had to file her own income taxes and make crucial decisions on her own. She took the time she needed to grieve and adjust and then returned to the second love of her life—using her imagination to tell stories.

Despite explaining drawbacks in a writing career to us, she was quick to share the joys of working for a traditional publisher who takes care of all the editing, printing, promoting, distributing, and legal aspects of her career. (If someone pirates and posts one of her books online, she will call Harlequin and the post will disappear within the hour.) All she has to do is write. The shelf life of romance novels is extremely brief before they are yanked for return, but Harlequin also puts her books online and translates them and ships them abroad. So she was able to tell us that even her first book has never gone out of print. The royalty checks for it and the others are still coming in--no wonder with her books published in 29 languages.

Her use of time was interesting. She doesn’t like to fly, so when she goes to see her son and wife and two grandbabies on the west coast, she goes by train--in her own compartment with bed and bathroom and her laptop. She has two whole days to write without interruptions before she arrives at her loved ones’ home. (And the same coming back, of course.) By using their location for one of her novels, she is able to sightsee and complete area research in addition to visiting. She schedules spring and fall visits to the Smokies and shuts herself up to write without interruptions while enjoying the mountains and the markets that she loves.
It was there that a friend phoned her that she had made the USA Today best seller list. She thought her friend was kidding, but she went down the street and found the paper and saw her name on the same page as the likes of John Grisham. That she was last on the list did not take away her awe and pleasure, and she later learned she was the first Harlequin author to make the list.

She was open to answer questions from the aspiring writers listening to her. Yes, she could usually complete a book in two or three months. (The shortest time she ever accomplished was three weeks.) At first she sent a synopsis and a number of chapters to show she could write. But since her books sold well, she quickly was able to cut that to a synopsis and three chapters and then one chapter. After selling fifteen or twenty books to Harlequin, she was finally only asked to send them a synopsis, and her editor would say go ahead with it. Most of the books in the line she writes for contain nine or ten chapters. How many pages are in her synopsis? She said usually eight to twelve pages and that becomes her roadmap for the book.

She often concludes with an epilogue because readers want to know what happened in the future. They want a happy ending, and she always gives them that. She gave us a happy evening also, and I am sure some of us went home dreaming of that phone call when a publisher says yes. And instead of being asked for money to see one’s book in print, the message would include that the advance would soon be arriving and money would be flowing in the writer’s direction.

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