Debut Author Post – Susanna Fraser

Susanna Fraser is the author of the delightful The Sergeant’s Lady, which is her first novel. Her hilarious website is here, which has gotten her attention from all over the place. She also has a much more traditional blog, and she is quite active on Facebook.

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When Tia invited me to be a guest at Debuts & Reviews, she suggested I talk about my journey to “The Call” and what I learned along the way.  I’m happy to do so, even though that journey took some scenic routes I never expected when I first started writing.

I wrote my first draft of the manuscript that became The Sergeant’s Lady back in 2005, and I loved writing it.  It was my second manuscript, so I had the confidence of knowing I could finish a book to spur me forward.  The research fascinated me, especially building a backstory for Will to cover every step of his army career before he met Anna.  And most of all I loved Will and Anna as characters, and I knew I had something special in them and their story.

I was still new enough to writing to think that would be enough, and that selling The Sergeant’s Lady would be easy despite the unusual setting and hero.  Surely I wasn’t the only one craving something different, and surely at least one editor out there would feel the same way.

I tried.  I really did.  I found an agent in 2006, and she submitted the manuscript extensively to print publishers.  I got a lot of compliments on my writing, a lot of comments, positive and negative, on how different the story was…and nothing but refusals on the manuscript.

Once The Sergeant’s Lady finished making the rounds, I concluded that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a romance writer after all.  I set the manuscript I’d written in 2006 aside.  (You’ll get to see it in 2011 if you’re interested; it’s called A Marriage of Inconvenience, and it’s a Sergeant’s Lady prequel with Anna’s brother James as the hero.)  My agent and I parted ways amicably, and I spent 2007-09 working on an alternative history manuscript.

That was my biggest mistake on the journey to publication, by the way.  Not switching genres–I love fantasy and romance equally, and I hope to be published in both someday.  But sticking with a book through three years and four major drafts was a wrongheaded.  I was so convinced that the alternative history was the best idea I’d ever have in my life, and also that I had to sell that story to prove I wasn’t a failure and was meant to be a writer after all.  Selling the next story wasn’t good enough, and nor was going back to my romances and trying to sell them, even though I could see that the historical market was shifting and there might be a home for stories that had been too different to sell just a few years before.  I’m only a year removed from that mentality, but I can’t explain it.  I had crazy ideas then.  I’m better now.

It’s too late for me to get those years back, and I don’t regret everything about them.  I learned a lot trying to write that book, among other things that I enjoy writing the character type the TV Tropes Wiki calls the Four-Star Badass (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FourStarBadass).  That book’s alternative-universe Wellington may never see the light of day, but there will be others like him.  Oh my, yes, there will be others like him, and if I do my job right, you’ll think they’re sexy.

But still.  Don’t make my mistake.  Know when to cut your losses.  One serious, start-over-from-scratch rewrite is the most you want to do for any single story.  If it’s still not right, start something else.  That story will still be there if you decide to go back to it later.  And it’s not the only good idea you’ll ever have.  Trust me.  I’m full of ideas now that I’m no longer so stubbornly sure I’ve already found The Only One.

Anyway.  Fast-forward to early 2010.  By then I was trying to sell my alternative history, but getting rejection letters with head-spinning speed.  Discouraged and not even sure what to write next, since the plan had been to SELL the alternative history and get right to work on its sequel, I pulled out The Sergeant’s Lady and re-read it.

And I realized that it was good. It’d been long enough since I’d written it that it was almost like reading someone else’s book–and I couldn’t put it down.  So I decided to give it one more chance.

I didn’t want to submit it to any editors who’d already read it, but there were a few houses my agent hadn’t submitted to back in 2006–including the ones that didn’t exist yet, like Carina.  Back then I never would’ve considered an e-publisher.  I’d heard too many stories of authors getting burned by fly-by-night publishers, and besides, the market only seemed viable for erotic stories.

But four years is forever in technological terms, and by 2009 I had a Kindle myself, plus a good sense of which companies were viable and which seemed dodgy.  Carina, with Harlequin’s backing, struck me as the best choice of all, so I submitted to them first.

Six months later, here I am.  Published in the genre I thought would never want me, with the book I’d given up on.  This industry will take you on a strange journey if you’ll let it.

~*~

Susanna will be hanging around if you have any comments or questions. I know I have a few, which I’ll post in the comments to get things started.

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26 thoughts on “Debut Author Post – Susanna Fraser

  1. Tia Nevitt

    We had very similar publishing journeys, except I stuck with the wrong book for at least ten years. It only took one rejection for me to set it aside for good.

    One thing I will say is I don’t regret the time I’ve spent tweaking the novels I’ve written since that first one, even though they are still unpublished. I guess that’s because I didn’t spend the entire time on one novel. Since 2004, I’ve been working on Forging a Legend, but I also wrote A Spy and a Lady and The Sevenfold Spell, along with several short stories.

    So I can’t say I’ve spent the time exclusively on one book, even when I was spending those ten years writing my trunk novel. I just don’t have an attention span that can handle that!

  2. I have that “wrong” book nested away under my metaphorical bed. Sometimes I glance at the file header and think, “Someday…”

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Keri Stevens, Tia Nevitt. Tia Nevitt said: Guest post at D&R! Debut Author Post – @SusannaFraser http://bit.ly/aqkrXq […]

  4. Congratulations, Susanna! So wonderful to hear your story about how you didn’t give up on your book. My “wrong book” is a Georgian-Regency saga with a cast of characters to rival a Shakespeare play. It’s “resting” right now (not in peace, more like newly kneaded bread dough!) and I hope to see if I can shape it into something more marketable one day.

    I think the important lesson–and you mastered it!–is don’t ever give up!

  5. Tia

    I actually ptinted out my 900 page unsellable epic. So it is in my stack of printed manuscripts, which is pretty tall.

  6. I think a lot of us have one of “those” manuscripts. Mine is kind of a space-opera romance. And like several of you, I keep thinking someday those characters deserve a better book! Great article, Susanna!

  7. I think we all sometimes take detours along the journey to being published. For me it happened long after I had a number of books in print. I had always wanted to write novels about relationships between women – friends/daughters/mothers. I decided to do the CHICAS series and while I found them rewarding, it was a real departure from what I had been writing. I’m glad that your journey with this novel brought you the joy of seeing it published! Good luck with it.

  8. Tia, I wish I was the type who could work on multiple stories at once. (Though I’m learning to be, to a small degree, now that I have to edit manuscripts that are under contract while working on the next thing.) But if I started new ideas before finishing the old ones, I’d be left with nothing but a stack of partials as I lost energy for old stories in pursuit of the New Shiny. (That’s actually the working title of the book I’m planning to start for NaNoWriMo this year–New Shiny, which I only get to start 11/1 if I finish my current project by then.)

    Amy, I may bring the alternative history back out someday, but right now I’m cannibalizing it for parts. 🙂 I think I have a fair idea of why it didn’t sell, and I’m looking for ways to keep what I loved about it, while avoiding certain pitfalls and working in certain marketable hooks. The New Shiny, in fact, owes quite a bit to the alternative history, while being sufficiently different that it wouldn’t prevent me from someday selling both.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I don’t work on several things at once, of course, but I have gone back to my completed novels several times, plus when I get stuck with one thing, it often helps to work on another. That’s why short stories make nice breaks.

  9. Susanna, thanks for opening up so much. I’ve never stuck to a book that much, but I have older mss. that I’ll never give up on. That I know in my heart are good. Like you with The Sergeant’s Lady.

    I hope you are making many, many sales!

  10. I too worked on a novel for four years thinking it was my ticket into the publishing realm. It wasn’t until a writing teacher asked me “What’s your book about?”, and when I told him, he said, “But why?”, and I had no answer.

    I decided to scrap it all. Took a shower that night, and lo and behold, a new story idea came to me. Even luckier enough, I was able to transfer the characters I loved from the previous novel into this one, and that’s where they were truly able to shine!

    Amazing how it works, isn’t it?

    1. Tia Nevitt

      That’s what happened with my first book. I tried to write a synopsis for it and it was dreadfully difficult. Now I try to have a once-sentence hook before I begin any new project.

  11. Elena, the thing with my alternative history is I had plenty of people gushing over the concept, including some pretty accomplished authors who read part of it through the Surrey Writers Conference “blue pencil” sessions that allow you to get author feedback on your opening. What should’ve been a red flag for me was that every time I described the story to an editor or agent, they’d look thoughtful and ask which was the main character, the Four Star Badass or the young female secondary character who also came up in my 5-minute pitch. When I’d say, “Why, the Badass, of course,” they’d visibly cool.

    The other, larger issue, which I didn’t realize until I read the alternative history again after editing Sergeant for Carina, was that I hadn’t as a writer quite delivered on the promise I made in the opening chapters of the alt hist. The contrast with Sergeant, which is a much more intimate book but IMHO does achieve what I set out to do in Ch. 1, was stark.

    If I’d had editors and agents clamoring for the alt history based on my queries and opening chapters, I would’ve tried to fix it. But since they weren’t, and since after four drafts I was sick to death of my poor story, I decided to cut my losses. I took a long look at what I loved about it and tried to think of ways to apply it to different stories–i.e. cannibalizing it for parts. And when I first thought of the New Shiny, the very first thing I did was run the premise by one of my critique partners and my editor to get a feel for whether it hit the right balance of fresh and marketable. Both were enthusiastic, so I’m going for it.

    Mind you, that doesn’t mean I’m writing to market now. I’m just more willing to be flexible in looking for the overlap points between what I love and what will sell.

  12. You are amazing. I read your web page, (I am still smiling) visited your blog, and can appreciate so much about you. Congratulations.

    I continue to practice this craft. I think of it this way. If I were a talented pianist, I wouldn’t play all the pieces I’ve practiced and practiced to learn excellent technique, in a final concert. But every practice session would take me closer to my goal and is never wasted.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      This is a wonderful attitude!

  13. Sometimes we need those wrong books to help us grow as writers. 🙂

  14. Susanna, I’ve walked the same road as you, stubbornly believing in my story until the right home for it came along. Congratulations on finding the right home for The Sergeant’s Lady.

    And congratulations on a very good web site — don’t know what your husband does for a living, but has he considered writing…? 🙂

  15. Marcelle, my husband actually is a web developer–the retro 90’s look of my site was part of the joke. If you want to read the full story behind it, I wrote it up for my blog: http://authorsusannafraser.blogspot.com/2010/08/my-website-real-story.html

    1. {Chuckle} That’s quite a story about how you got a very basic website. {Smile}

      I hope things have calmed down. {Smile}

      Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  16. I love the title “New Shiny”! Mr. Richland likes to yell “look, a squirrel!” when I talk about a book idea that is not my WIP. Perhaps I should use that as my next title…

    Two years ago I gave up on my first book – a time travel romance set in 1881 New Mexico Territory. I believe the sole agent I submitted to said “time travel is not an easy sell,” which I thought was generous. But now several people have told me to submit it to Carina and I’m vowing publicly, right here (Marion, Susanna, you can hold me to it): After I get through ECWC, I will submit Shooting Stars to Carina.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Ugh–I’m writing a time travel historical. Maybe by the time I finish it, agents won’t be prejudiced against it anymore.

  17. Rebecca Rogers Maher

    Susanna – Congratulations on your first sales! I have to say that I plan to stay committed to writing only stories that personally move me. I can’t let myself worry about what will make an agent heat up. God bless them, I know they have a job to do, but I feel calmer and stronger when I listen to my own heart. I recognize that this approach is going to cost me. But any system that forces an artist to heed prevailing wisdom instead of her own vision is going to reduce the power of what’s created. Even if it means a rough path for me as a writer – and it already has meant exactly that – I’d rather write what I want. The Sergeant’s Lady definitely sounds like a story that mattered to you. It really looks terrific, and I can’t wait to read it.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Well-said. I feel this way about my time travel historical. I have an approach that I’ve never seen anywhere else, and I hope it is as cool as I think it is.

  18. Chicory

    Yikes! I missed the discussion. Well, if anyone’s still listening… my trunk novel is a humorous mouse mystery. I wrote it in my late teens, so it’s absolutely ridden with mistakes and the mood swings wildly between humor, angst, and suspense. That book taught me everything I know about writing in first person, but it’s not marketable. Every few years I drag it out and try to re-write it into something consistent, but I always have to admit defeat.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      It does sound kinda fun, but I’m so with you on trying to fix a broken manuscript. My high fantasy is hopelessly broken. If I ever do anything with it, it will be a completely different story with all new characters–only some of the central concepts will remain.

      1. Chicory

        I’m the exact opposite; with me it’s the central concepts that are the problem, and some of the characters that I’d like to keep. 🙂 Apparently there’s more to writing mysteries than reading a ton of Agatha Christy…

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