I'd like to welcome Sandra Orchard to my cyber home today! It's such a treat to have you visiting, Sandra!
Sandra and I met years back at a writer's conference in Guelph. I remember the first time I saw her, she of course, was volunteering. Standing outside the main building, she helped anyone and everyone who came across her sight line with a puzzled look on their face. I was one of the people she took under her wing.
Later we met in an intense Romance workshop led by Carolyne Aarsen, and since then have kept in contact, and I'm so excited that Sandra lives in pubbed land now! Her debut novel, Deep Cover, is released in September through LIS. Leave a comment on any of the posts this week up until Thursday and you'll be entered to win a copy of Deep Cover. I'll announce the winner on Friday.
Sandra was kind enough to be interviewed by me, so without further ado, here we go.
Q1: Many of us unpubbed writers question how long it's going to take to write a publishable novel. How many novels did you write and prime before selling? What number was Deep Cover?
Deep Cover was my fourth manuscript, although I’d completely rewritten it (and manuscript number three) so many times it felt more like manuscript ten! By the time it sold, I’d written six novels. Deep Cover evolved over several years through many different drafts as I learned about the essential elements of a publishable romantic suspense. In contrast, by the time I wrote its sequel (my sixth manuscript), I finished the first two drafts in less than four months, and once it was contracted I completed the requested revisions in three months.
Q2: I know you've gone to several Writer's Conferences, both here in Canada and abroad over the years. Do you attribute any success to signing a contract from attending these Writer's Conferences?
I have learned so much through conference workshops, and have met many, many writers through them. I highly recommend the investment. For this particular story, I paid for a critique from Margaret Daley at the 2008 ACFW conference. She was very enthusiastic about it, and kept urging me to submit it to LIS. However, it was another year and a half before I did, because I was getting requests at those same conferences from other editors who wanted to see it, and LI doesn’t allow simultaneous submissions. I’m so glad I waited, because at the 2009 ACFW conference, I connected with fellow Daphne DuMaurier finalist Wenda Dottridge. We became critique partners in the months that followed. She had a really good sense of what the editors wanted and helped me edit the manuscript to better suit the line. In that interim year, Margaret (a special needs teacher) had also helped me fine tune the mentally-challenged sister character. As a result, I had minimal revisions to do once the manuscript was contracted, and…I already had the first draft of the sequel ready to submit.
Q3: You've made it to pub land. Congratulations, Sandra! Now, aspiring authors want to know, what do you believe is the single most important attribute a writer must have to succeed in getting that first contract?
Q4: Are you a Pantster or a Plotter? Which do you like best, first drafts or the editing phase? Can you explain in 200 words or less how you go about doing each?
Oh, no!!! Word count limit—the bane of writers! I’m a plotter. I majored in math at university, very logical thinker, which is probably why I gravitate to mystery/suspense so I can plot out lots of twists and turns. Explaining how I plot is a blog in itself…let’s save that for tomorrow. For now, I’ll just say that I love brainstorming and plotting the best. The actual writing is hard slogging for me no matter what draft it is. Although, on some magical days the words do seem to flow effortlessly.
I do prefer the editing phase over the first draft, because that’s where I have fun layering in details and emotions that make the story breathe. My first drafts are about getting the suspense plot down and the skeleton of the romance and character arcs in place. The pacing is usually atrocious. I love to see the story come alive on subsequent passes. Thankfully, now that I have a better understanding of the elements and how to pace them, it takes me fewer passes to get everything in its place.
Q5: Your contract is with LIS. If you're bestest friend was trying to get a contract with them, what would you recommend he/she do to get noticed there and out of the slush pile?
Write an amazing story that meets the expectations of LIS readers. How do you figure out what those expectations are? Read debut authors. No, I’m not just trying to promote my book.
Established authors can get away with things that untested authors can’t. By reading debut authors, you’ll see what editors are looking for in books for their line.
The basics for LIS are: heroine in danger throughout the story, start in the action/danger (or at least hint at it) from the first line, first paragraph, first page. Introduce both the hero and heroine in the first chapter. They don’t have to meet, but it’s preferred. These aren’t hard and fast rules, but following them will help your chances. Writing in third person pov is mandatory. Keep the romantic tension high. Ensure there is a clear romantic conflict. Why could these two never be together? Craft a story in which they must work together to solve the mystery and/or avoid danger. Meeting editors at conferences, pitching your story idea and working out potential bugs with them ahead of submission will also give you a foot up.
Q6: In writing, there's no instant gratification, no magic wand to cast a spell of "greatness" on our writing, so what words of wisdom can you offer to help us survive the years of just-keep-writing-and-learning-even-though-the-road-seems-never-ending?
First of all, recognize that writing Christian fiction is a ministry. If you have dreams of making lots of money, you should know that most writers don’t. If you still can’t imagine yourself not writing, keep at it and don’t give up.
The coolest thing to me over the past six years was seeing how God used the fact I was a writer to connect me to other aspiring writers who I otherwise would probably have never met, or who would never have read a page of Christian fiction. They’ve become dear friends and I’ve had the privilege of sharing Christ’s love with them in ways I’d never imagined.
I also treasure the online and at-conference friendships I’ve cultivated with fellow Christian writers (both aspiring and published). We share each other’s triumphs and defeats, and carry each other in prayer. Writing can be a lonely business, but in today’s plugged-in world, it needn’t be. So my best advice is to have realistic expectations and enjoy the journey!
Thanks Sandra, for sharing these inspiring answers! If you have any questions, any at all, for Sandra, drop them in the comments as Sandra will be stopping by periodically today.
Tomorrow Sandra will take us into her world of plotting here. Since I'm a frustrated pantster myself, I'm really looking forward to learning about Sandra's method. Praying she can convert me! :)
Remember I'm hosting a GIVEAWAY of Deep Cover this week. Leave a comment with an email addy or link to it to be entered. Good luck everyone!
Surrendering to Him,