Pub Rants

Write The Story That Grips You—Guest blogger Kristina Riggle

 17 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Back in my office in Denver. And what will I miss most from New York City and the Upper West Side? The Magnolia Bakery. ‘Nacking on some cupcakes.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.

Here is an author who really understands what I was trying to get at with the Dancing With The Stars entry of last week.

So often writers see a first novel get published, have lots of success, and just assume that was the first manuscript the author had done. I’m sorry to say it, folks, but it really isn’t so. Yes, a first PUBLISHED novel might have a lot of success but a lot of writers forget about all those drafts hidden under the bed.

And Kristina knows the value of this. She has at least two fully completed novels stashed away—never to see the light of day. Because that’s what it took for her to write a really phenomenal debut called REAL LIFE & LIARS, which hits shelves today. Congrats Kris!

Kristin asked me to blog about something educational for her readers. This is a pretty smart crowd, and Kristin has done so much to educate all of you about query letter etiquette and so many other important topics, I’m not sure what I can add. So I decided the most useful thing I could do is share what this process has taught me that I didn’t know before.

Write the story that grips you and won’t let go. I didn’t think about the market when I wrote REAL LIFE & LIARS. I’d been writing something else that was supposed to sell, and I was hating it. So I finally decided to instead write exactly the kind of book I like to read, so at least I would have fun, even if no one wanted to publish it.

Someone wanted it. Several someones. It sold at auction. Even the rejections were lovely.

This time around, I produced a heartfelt and genuine manuscript, and I’m convinced that came through on the page.

Blurbs matter. I’ve gotten lots of lovely quotes from many generous and talented authors who were kind enough to take time away from their own careers to read my book. And several times in recent weeks, people have remarked with pleased amazement that I have so many quotes “for a new author.” I don’t know if it affects readers browsing in a bookstore (we could debate that for ages, and in fact it has been debated elsewhere) but I know that reviewers and booksellers have been impressed, and that can only help. One might ask how I landed these blurbs. The short answer is that I asked politely. See next paragraph.

Connections matter. First, networking with other writers kept me sane. I’m hardly a loner by nature, and if not for my support system of fellow writers, by now I would be huddled in a corner, curled around a whiskey bottle. But the business aspect came after the socializing and the friendly support, and this is key. This was no calculated, manipulative attempt at butt-kissing. In fact, many of these connections were in place long before LIARS ever came to be. Thanks to the Internet, networking is easier than ever. Twitter, Facebook, Backspace, various RWA chapters and other genre associations… Our group blog for debut authors, The Debutante Ball, emerged out of connections like these. You don’t have to live in New York to be part of a writer scene anymore. Just talk to people about books and writing, and connections will naturally form.

The coolest things don’t sound sexy at all, like Target and Costco. I got a few minutes recently to chat with Jen Lancaster (BITTER IS THE NEW BLACK, SUCH A PRETTY FAT, PRETTY IN PLAID) at the Printers Row Lit Fest. That bolded statement is a paraphrase of something she said when I told her my book was going to be in Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s warehouse stores this summer, and it’s a Target “Breakout” pick starting in August. This is a big deal for a new author, to have my book in front of so many eyeballs, in so many places, all around the country. For non-writers – and myself, a year ago – it’s hard to grasp why that’s cool. But it absolutely is!

I’m sure many more such lessons are coming. (Is it tacky to sign a book in blue ink? Do I have to write my whole name or is it OK to scribble “Kristina”?)

That’s the other thing I’ve learned. There’s always more to know!

17 Responses

  1. Eileen said:

    Speaking of networking, I met Kristina when she came to one of my book signings and we’ve been in touch ever since. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this book for months!

    huge congrats!

  2. Anonymous said:

    What’s with the cover’s no-caps title?! Goofy. It screams, “Dont take this seriously!”

  3. therese said:

    These are great points to make Kristin! Some of us have more than two full novels stashed under the bed that will never see the light of day. 🙂

    Love the cover, it looks like my type of book, especially with the no-caps title. I’ve added this to my to-be-read list.

    Congrats on your debut!

  4. Anonymous said:

    Yes. All those things matter. Unfortunately, you only have control over one of them — which is the title of this post, and which is probably the most quickly glossed over of all the points.

    The rest is up to outside forces. All the networking in the world might not net you a quote. And only your publisher can get you into some of those bookselling venues.

  5. Carradee said:

    Another reason not to write just what you think will sell: even supposing you do well enough to sell that thing, you’ll hate it, despise it, and not want to push it on anybody.

    At least, that was my experience with the short story I did according to what I thought a small e-zine might be looking for. I was right, and they loved it.

    I’ve lost the story somewhere in my computer switches. I’m sure I have a copy *somewhere*, but I have no driving desire to find it.

  6. Dawn Maria said:

    Thanks for sharing Kristina. As someone trying to get my own book represented, I need to hear these stories. Since I’m in Target all the time, I’ll be seeing you! Enjoy your book launch.

  7. Wendy Nelson Tokunaga said:

    Big congrats to you, Kristina. You bring up many good points, and I wish you the best of luck with your debut.

    And I also like Kristin’s point, that many writers assume a first novel is the first manuscript the author has written. Not so for me as well. My first published novel was actually the *fifth* I’d written. And those other four were not sitting under the bed, but had been sent out and rejected by a number of agents and editors. So the moral of the story (or the novel) is: don’t give up!

  8. Anonymous said:

    Congrats to Kristina! I love that cover, it looks exactly like the type of book I’d read. I’ll keep my eyes open for this.


    However, I do agree with Anon 5:52. Most writers don’t have control over quotes and blurbs and a pub house pushing their book. When something sells at auction, well, the pub has paid real money for it. They HAVE promote it or they won’t recap that money. Blurbs. Quotes. The pub does that and a ton of other things the don’t do for other books.

    I’ve been published by a “big” house, in hardcover, yet they didn’t help me get quotes for my book or provide ARCs at BEA or other venues. I had to practically beg my in-house publicist to send ARCs to the people I knew had a following online that would directly appeal to my book’s audience. She claimed she did, but they never got them. I ended up sending my own author copies instead. It was publicity by lip-service. Not action.

    I know another author whose entire series tanked because the house offered her no support of any kind except being listed in their catalog with a hundred other books. Big deal.

    I’m thouroughly convinced that the ONLY publicity that is effective is the kind the publisher does, and you only get it if you are a lead title, or they’ve paid a large advance they have to recoup. I can’t be the only one that knows this. Am I?

  9. Anonymous said:

    “the ONLY publicity that is effective is the kind the publisher does”

    Disagree. In fact, a lot of independent releases are ranked under 2,000 on Amazon, while big house releases languish in the 500,000 range. Yea, I know, they have other venues besides amazon, but still…youcan’t tell me they make up for all that at B&N.

    If you’re the LEAD title at a big house, then yeah, that publicityt machine is stil lpowerful. But otherwise, a net savvy author can use the web and social nets to market more intimately and efficiently. Podcasting, vid trailers, video blogs–there’s no limit. If you depend on someone else to do it for you, youre taking a chance. If youwant it, take it. I’m not sure I’d even accept a low-advance offer from a big house, they’re so irrelevant these days.

  10. nkrell said:

    I enjoyed the post. Being in those stores is HUGE! There are over five hundred Costco stores in this country (I believe that was the last count) not to mention all of the Targets, BJ’s and Sam’s club. Congratulations!

  11. Tish Cohen said:

    Just wanted to pipe in to say congrats, Kristina, on the Costco buy! I hadn’t heard about it and it is huger than huge. Distribution like that can really make a book.

    Also wanted to say everyone should dash out and buy this book right now. It is poignant and brilliant and Anne Tyler-ish — something you’ll be recommending to friends for a long time.

    Hugs and congrats to you, Kristina and Kristin!

  12. Anonymous said:

    About the “first novel =/= first manuscript” issue, why do writers write several manuscripts before reaching publishable quality rather than reworking the first or second one until it gets there? I ask because I am working on “the story that grips you and won’t let go,” as Kristina said, but it is my first attempt at a novel (or any kind of fiction). I didn’t develop this idea after first deciding I wanted to write novels; the idea of writing a novel never seriously occurred to me before I had this idea. I am happy to write and rewrite as much as it takes and learn along the way, but I hate the thought of abandoning this idea at some point just because it’s my first manuscript. If the premise and plot I’ve developed have potential, couldn’t I just keep at the same manuscript as long as it takes rather than putting it aside at some point and chalking it up to experience?