Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to a very accomplished author, with both traditional publishing houses and self-published works. Susan Squires offers a wealth of information about her journey in the literary world.
Joanne: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and was there a particular inspiration to get started?
Susan: I tried to write my first book when I was twelve. It was first person from the point of view of my dog. Got 35 pages on an old typewriter. So writing was always in me. I was a theater major in school and then switched to English literature. I considered a creative writing masters degree, but chickened out. Then life got in the way. I got a Masters in English Literature, and then got a job. The company was growing fast, and I got promoted. Pretty soon I felt stuck. So I started to write on the side. The degree in English literature was actually a problem. I’d spent years being a critic and reading the masters of literature. Anything I tried to write, I just got disgusted with because it wasn’t good enough. What finally got me started was a book I bought that I thought had a great premise. But the execution really disappointed me. I thought, I may not be Jane Austen, but I can do better than that. That freed me from my inner critic long enough to get a book written. It wasn’t very good. But I learned along the way.
Joanne: Are you published through a traditional publishing house? If yes, how did you find your agent and publisher?
Susan: I was first published by a New York Publishing House. My first publisher was Dorchester Publishing. I wrote five books and a novella for them. Then I switched to St. Martin’s Press (a division of McMillan) and published 11 books and two novellas there. I got my first agent at the San Diego State University Writing Conference. They allowed agent and editor appointments, where you got to submit the first seven pages of your manuscript. The agent who read the first pages of my book, Danegeld, offered to represent me. I thought I was in! But she couldn’t sell the book. It was dark and very carefully researched historical paranormal about Vikings and Saxons in Dark Age Britain, when language was changing, and religion, and cultures were clashing. I went on to write the next book, but I loved Danegeld, and didn’t want to let it die. I joined Romance Writers of America, and started entering contests where the finalists were judged by editors. Danegeld won the paranormal division of 11 contests, but it was one I didn’t even win (I think I came in third overall) where the editor from Dorchester who read it bought the book. So, I believe in both writer’s conferences and contests! I often judge contests to give back to others what I was given.
Joanne: Why did you choose to go the self-publishing Indie route in lieu of traditional publication? What were the deciding factors to choosing your publisher? Would you recommend that same Indi publisher to a colleague?
Susan: After 17 books with New York publishers, and being on both the USA Today and New York Times bestsellers lists, I burned out. I’d been working a day job of 50 plus hours a week as an Executive for a Fortune 500 company as well as producing a book on deadline every 9 months for 12 years. I thought I could do it forever. I couldn’t. I was fortunate to be able to take early retirement from the dayjob. But the joy of writing was gone. It took about six months to a year to re-emerge. It was then that I conceived my six book Children of Merlin Series about the big, modern day Tremaine family who have inherited a magic gene from Merlin of Camelot. Each sibling is drawn to another person with the magic gene. With true love comes a magic power. Of course, it isn’t that easy. Each has unique problems to overcome. And there are those who inherited their magic from Morgan Le Fay who become the Tremaine family’s enemies. But I was excited to live with that family and watch the kids grow up. My agent said he could have sold it, if not to New York, where the market is tough, to one of the reliable independents like Montlake or Sahmain. But I looked at having deadlines again, and I didn’t want to do it. So I published them myself. I love it. No deadlines. I have a pretty big mailing list because of my prior career and it’s worked out fine. The first two books in the series (Do You Believe In Magic? and He’s a Magic Man) were the winner and runner up in the Book Seller’s Best Contest paranormal category, which just allowed self-published books in this year. So I’m writing what I want, and getting it out there without having to deal with deadlines and marketing departments. Would I self-publish without having published in New York first? Probably not, if I thought the book had a chance at getting bought by New York. They have great distribution, and they can make your career.
Joanne: What was the hardest part for you in the writing process; the outline, synopsis, query or building the story itself?
Susan: Synopsis! Without question, the synopsis is the hardest part for me. I started out as a pantster, and we hate synopses. The first three books I sold to Dorchester were already completed when they sold. No problem. That editor bought the next two books off a vague description in a half-page email. But then I went to ST. Martin’s Press. While my editor there bought three books on the strength of one of those half-page emails (and the fact that I had five books published, so I did have a track record), she didn’t want me to do that to her in the future. It was too risky for her. So she structured my contracts so I got paid 50% of the advance on signing the contract, 10% on her acceptance of the synopsis, and 40% on delivery of an acceptable book. Voila! I was not allowed to be a pantster anymore. I learned to do synopses. I even teach classes in how to do it now. But it was painful! Now I will say this—it saves time and pain in writing the book. You never get lost in the middle, or write yourself into a corner, because you have figured it out in advance. And it’s just a fact of life that you deviate from the synopsis if you have to do that to get the book done. It’s like a roadmap, and that can be a good thing.
Joanne: What advice would you give to new writers just getting started with their first manuscript?
Susan: Take the time to learn to write well. We’re all so anxious to get our book published that we send it out before it’s ready. I did that. My first book was nowhere near in a shape to be published. I sent it out and got a lot of discouraging rejections. I re-did it (and it still wasn’t ready) and sent it out again. This time one agent said she thought it had hope, and if I’d cut it in half she’d look at it. I didn’t know how to do that, so I never sent it back to her, and got discouraged again. So the other advice I would give you is, don’t stop. Keep plugging away at the craft, and when it’s ready, or the next one you write is ready, keep sending it out. I wasted years in discouragement when I could have been practicing my craft and been published much sooner. (That first book did see the light of day. I reworked it again after I sold Danegeld and the editor wanted to know what else I had in the drawer. He bought it and it was published as Sacrament.)
Joanne: What is the premise of your novel we are promoting today?
Susan: Waiting for Magic is the third book in the Children of Merlin Series. This one is a little different than the first two books, Do You Believe in Magic? and He’s a Magic Man, in that it follows two members of the Tremaine clan. Keelan Tremaine waits for the promise of true love that will activate the magic in her genes, now that two of her siblings have already found their soul mates and their power. Waiting turns out to be hard. But if waiting is hard for Kee, not having the Merlin gene at all is harder for Devin, the orphan adopted by the Tremaines when he was nine. He and Kee have lived like twins, but now they have to accept that their paths will diverge. Everything is about to change.
Joanne: Can you share a few paragraphs from your book, Waiting for Magic, to wet out appetite?
A misshapen shadow fell across Kee’s canvas. Her brush, laden with the deep teal she was using for the early November shadows under the pergola, paused in midair. The somber tone of her painting matched her mood today. She might be moving out of her Monet period. The question was, whose style was she moving into? She sighed.
“Those are going to fall off one of these days,” she said to the shadow without turning.
“You always say that,” the familiar deep voice complained. “They never do.”
She gave a reluctant smile and swiveled. In spite of his protest, Devin put his surfboard down on the lawn and hiked up the baggy, wet board shorts from hips to waist, retying the cord. The chill November wind had dried his body on the hike up from the beach, but his longish blond hair was still wet and dark. She refused to ask if he was cold. He always called the weather “brisk,” even if she was freezing. Today she’d bundled up in a turtleneck under the men’s work shirt she used as a painter’s smock, while Devin was half-naked. Salt rime left a wavy line over his tanned chest and shoulders. He had to be strong to surf the big waves and he’d worked hard at it. His muscles were sleek. Like a seal, he seemed to have been born for the water.
Kee turned herself forcibly back to her painting. Somehow the bougainvillea looked like the last bright defiance of the coming winter. She hadn’t intended to make it seem so poignant.
“You just want to give those surfer girls a thrill,” she said over her shoulder.
He snorted and plopped down on the grass. “Like I care.”
“Not for any of them?” she asked, suddenly serious.
Her brother, with whom she’d shared everything since they were nine, had seemed, well, closed off lately. She’d thought maybe he’d finally found a girlfriend. “You’ve got to start dating.” It was inevitable. She’d been dreading it, but he had to move on. He wasn’t a boy anymore.
Everyone’s life would move on, except hers. She was like that mosquito stuck in amber for a zillion years from Jurassic Park. Frozen, still.
Thanks Susan. Readers – here are the links to her website and Facebook pages so you can order her books. It has been a pleasure to have you on Writing Under Fire’s Author Interview Friday.
Susan’s Website: http://www.susansquires.com/
Susan’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susansquiresbooks
Do You Believe in Magic Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007SH6YL2/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb
He’s a Magic Man Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0099G5ISA/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb
Waiting for Magic Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00G76PXHG/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb