Thursday, April 17, 2008

An Interview with Mary Connealy

I’m pleased to welcome Mary Connealy as my first Authors-Helping-Writers interviewee. And what an inspiration Mary proves to be to authors-in-training as well as those starting out in the publishing world. And as a special bonus, Mary has offered to address any further questions left in the comment section for the next day or two. So feel free to ask away, we can all learn more this way!

A little upfront information: Mary writes historical romances, contemporary romances, and mystery novels, all with a strong element of comedy that entertains brilliantly and so it is no wonder that Mary received an exclusive contract with Barbour that consists of eighteen books to be published through to 2011. That’s an additional eighteen titles, on top of her previously contracted books with Barbour and Heartsong Presents, all since her first contract was received in front of 350 attendees at the Nashville ACFW conference in September, 2005.

In addition to fulfilling her eighteen book contract, Mary has taught writing courses for ACFW, judges contests, both published and unpublished, and is actively involved with three blogs, Seekerville, that focuses on fiction writing contests, Petticoats and Pistols, a blog promoting Romancing the West, and her Personal blog, offering Mary’s own news.

With five new books releasing in 2008, another five in 2009 and then three more each year thereafter through to 2011, it’s amazing that Mary found the time to participate in this interview. For those of you blinking furiously, wondering just how one woman can manage to write so many novels per year, Mary shares her secret of success and it’s an amazing lesson for us all to learn from.

The naïve interviewer I am, asked Mary: Did you write any “practice” novels, or did you revise and edit your initial story until it sold?

Mary responds: HAH! I had twenty finished novels on my computer when I got my first contract. That’s full length adult novels. In addition, I had four or five middle grade novels written and a half a dozen novellas. I’ve sold a bunch of them now. I’d always go right to the next one when I finished a book. Then after that one was finished, I’d go revise the one I’d finished before, then write another book, then revise whatever I was in the mood for. I always, always, always have a new Work in Progress going. That is the book that gets 1000 words a day. Revisions don’t count.

I had a lot of books already written on my computer before I signed my first contract or I’d never have been able to make a commitment like this
(referring to the 18 book contract she signed last summer with Barbour releasing over the next four years.)

With that number of manuscripts completed and in the works, one is curious to know how long it took for all of those novels to be written.

Mary responds: I'd been writing for ten years before I got my first contract.

Wow, that averages out to two plus novels per year and many of those manuscripts were finalists in writing contests throughout those years. In the 2004 ACFW Noble Theme Contest, Mary won the historical category with Petticoat Ranch, and came in third in the same category with another novel. It was that particular win that Mary accredits to her signing with an agent and ultimately receiving her first offered contract.

With ten years of dedicated writing, I suspect Mary could share some wisdom on how to handle feelings of dejection so common in this industry, so I ask: If you received rejections along the way, would you care to share how many you received? If so, how did you handle the disappointment they must have presented?

Mary graciously responds: So many rejections you cannot believe it and I can’t count that high. Seriously, I know I got about 40 rejections in one year. And I’d been writing for ten, so do the math!!!! Of course in later years I had more books to reject so there was more opportunity for editors to tell me I stunk.

I handled the rejection, honestly, by developing a spirit of hopelessness about publication. I just have this thing about writing. I just love it. I write all the time. I decided about half way into my ten years that I would of course be rejected, of course. I expected nothing else. So then when the rejection came I could just look at it and think, big deal, I already knew. With that attitude I was able to quit sucking my thumb and crawl out from under my writing desk often within 72 hours of getting the rejection.

Praying and continuing to write despite the rejections are both key elements to succeeding in achieving publication, but was there anything else you did to survive the author-in-training phase of your life?

Mary responds: I joined ACFW, my local RWA group (local is Omaha, Nebraska over an hour drive away so it was hard to be loyal). I joined the online FHL chapter of RWA. I joined a critique group through ACFW, I got some short pieces published, some children’s Christmas plays and worked at a newspaper and had a book review column for them. I set a daily word limit for YEARS of 300 words. I now have a 1000 word limit but when I had the 300 word limit I was aware that some days it was opening the Word document that was the hard part. Getting started, writing that first sentence. Usually if I’d write one sentence I’d write a thousand words. So upping my daily count to 1000 isn’t that much of a change. I attended writer’s conferences, I entered contests almost compulsively, I made connections, got to know other authors, not to advance my career but just to have partners and a support group. That’s the basis of Seekerville. We call ourselves Contest Divas, but we’re mainly a support group for each other.

Did you work on creating a platform during that time?

Mary responds: I don’t have a platform. Most of the authors I know don’t. I think ‘platforms’ are great if you’ve got a speaking ministry or a cause you believe in, and I think a platform, if you’ve got adherents to your platform, give you a good jumping off spot to get contracted but I don’t think it’s necessary.

That’s good to know for all of us introvert writers. Now for a few specifics regarding publication: What was the time frame involved between signing your initial contract to seeing your book on the shelves?

Mary Answers: I signed my contract in September 2005 and Golden Days came out in May 2007, nearly two years later. If you get a contract, prepare to be patient, these publishers work a long time ahead.

And during that time, how many revisions or edits does your publishing house generally request?

Mary: Two. I send in the book, they send it back with what they call ‘substantive edits’. That’s edits that say things like, ‘this girls is acting really young here but over here you say she’s sixteen. Which is it?’ Barbour is really good at this. I feel like the editors just make the book so much stronger by catching inconsistencies like that. I just now finished with my galley edits for Calico Canyon. This is my one last chance, with the book all laid out, to catch mistakes, misspelled words, clumsy sentences. In the end, I am amazed at the extent to which the book is still all mine. No one to blame but myself if anyone dislikes it.

I often wondered if the changes requested would alter your work so much that it would no longer seem like your own. It's good to know that even after editors get hold of the manuscript, the author still very much owns her work. That must make it so much easier to self-promote your book. What do publishing houses expect in the way of self-promotion?

Mary: I am gung-ho about promoting my book. But I am also, at heart, a kind of solitary person. I’m very happy sitting behind my computer having both sides of a conversation myself. I’ve done speeches, though, yikes! So far out of my comfort zone. I did a radio interview for a small Christian radio station, I enjoyed that. I’d do more of that. I try to really respect the chance Barbour has taken by signing me to an exclusive contract. I’m really honored that they put that kind of faith in me and I’m doing my very best to be very brave and do all the promotion things that are asked of me to hold up my end of the bargain. Fundamentally though, I mean at the rock bottom basis, I believe the very best thing I can do to promote myself is write the very best book I know how to write, so if I do convince someone to take a chance and buy one of my books, they’ll have a great time and want to read more of what I write.

I do believe you are truly fulfilling that, Mary. I look forward to reading all of your new releases. Any final thoughts or direction you would like to share with weary authors-in-training?

Mary: Write and keep writing. I don’t think you can get better without doing. Take classes, find a critique group, enter contests and take the judges comments SERIOUSLY. You know there’s just no such thing as an author looking at a judges comments and saying, “Well, this judge doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” Because any neutral pair of eyes on your book is a reader. No, you don’t have to make every change a judge tells you to, but ask WHY didn’t they like this section. If they say, “You’re research is wrong here” when you know it’s right, ask WHY, or ask HOW can I explain it so this reader understands.

That’s excellent advice, Mary. It is really the only way to reap the benefits of participating in writing contests where the judges do comment.

Thanks so much for sharing all this great information with us. Before we wrap this interview up, will you give us some information of your current available novels and some of your upcoming releases, too?

Lassoed in Texas Series:

Petticoat Ranch

In Bookstores Now

Sophie Edwards’ life is one long struggle for survival, and, more importantly, the survival of her four daughters. She wants to avenge her husband’s murder, but she has no idea how to do it. And as if she hasn't got enough to do, now a wounded man is disrupting her family’s lonely life.
Clay McClellen left an idyllic, all-male world in the mountains. But, after plunging headfirst over a cliff, Clay finds himself at the mercy of a widow and her four girls.
A suspenseful romantic comedy about a mountain man trapped in a pretty, sweet smelling, confusing all-girl world.

Calico Canyon

Releases August 2008

Let yourself be swept away by this fast-paced romance, featuring Grace Calhoun, an instructor of reading, writing, and arithmetic, who, in an attempt to escape the clutchs of a relentless pursuer, runs smack dab into even more trouble with the 6R's - widower Daniel Reeves, along with his five rowdy sons. When a marriage is forced upon this hapless pair - two people who couldn't dislike each other more - an avalanche isn't the only potential danger lurking amid the shadows of Calico Canyon. Will they make it out alive? Or end up killing each other in the process?

Alaska Brides

Anthology by Cathy Marie Hake, Mary Connealy and Kathleen Y’Barbo with Mary Connealy’s book, Golden Days

Releases September 2008

The historic Alaskan frontier makes a wonderful setting for romantic adventures. Trek into the wilds alongside three women who have strong faith, determination, and no need for a husband. Can they surrender their independent hearts when love comes to call in the form of a friendly neighbor, a grieving widower, and a secretive gold miner?

Of Mice…and Murder

Releases September 2008

Join the club here!

Carrie hates mice and loves the big city, so why is she living in a huge mouse infested house in her dinky hometown? The dead guy in her pantry closet is the most interesting thing that's happened since she came home. Of course the carpenter whose helping her trap her mice and solve the crime is pretty interesting, too.

Being named in Great-grandma’s will was like hitting bankrupt on Wheel of Fortune. The whole family held their breath while the wheel ticked around and around, or rather while the lawyer opened the envelope. Then they all heaved a sigh of relief when the wheel stopped on Carrie’s name. Carrie the heiress. Great. Clean up the house. Clean up the yard. Clean up Great-grandma’s rap sheet.

Can Carrie find the courage to team up with her greatest enemy…Maxie the World’s Largest Field Mouse…in time to save herself and find true love?

Heartsong Presents South Dakota Weddings

Buffalo Gal

Releases October 2008

Book #1 in the South Dakota Weddings Series from Heartsong Presents

They’ll never see eye-to-eye.

Buffy Lange has spent her life learning about, caring for, and protecting buffalo. She’s landed the job of her dreams, managing a huge buffalo ranch in South Dakota. With stars in her eyes, she imagines all of the Midwest given over to free-ranging buffalo. To her, buffalo embody beauty, majesty, and strength.

To Wyatt Shaw, however, the buffalo are a constant threat. Wyatt’s ranch adjoins the Buffalo Commons and he watches in trepidation as its owner expands and rides roughshod over the local ranchers. Buffalo are wild, untameable, and dangerous. They present a hazard to man and beast.
When disaster strikes, Wyatt’s worst fears are realized and Buffy can do nothing but clean up the mess. With one determined to rid the area of buffalo and the other determined to see them flourish, the dust seldom settles around these two. Will they find a common ground or are they destined to forever stand alone?

Clueless Cowboy

Releases November 2008

Book #2 in the South Dakota Weddings Series from Heartsong Presents

Emily Johannson discovers a cranky man living in a derelict house in the woodland behind her ranch. When she orders him off, Jake Hanson tells her he bought this wreck and is planning to live there. He’s filthy, starving, and furious that Emily found him. He wants to be left alone. And she would if she didn’t keep needing to save his worthless life.

Bossy Bridegroom

Releases December 2008

Book #3 in the South Dakota Weddings Series from Heartsong Presents

Tyler Davidson was a tyrant for a husband, and Jeanie was born to be a doormat.

They got along great.

Then Tyler abandoned his submissive wife, just another way to be a jerk.
Tyler returns a Christian and wants to heal their relationship. Jeanie is in possession of the first bit of hard won self esteem of her life, and she doesn’t believe for a minute her cranky husband can change his ways.

They commit to building a healthy marriage but his new job as her boss slips them back into old habits.

What a line-up, Mary! Thanks so much for taking the time to share and inspire those of us trudging along the path to publication. I look forward to many good reads ahead from you, Mary.

If you have any questions for Mary Connealy, she has agreed to check in on comments for the next day or two and is willing to reply. So don't be shy, this is one author who loves to help others.

And remember, for every comment posted on my blog for the month of April a ballot will be put into a giveaway drawing for one of two copies of Daily Devotions for Writers.

Ask away...and learn even more!


Julie Lessman said...

Great interview Eileen and Mary! And yeah, Mary, I have a question -- how many hours of sleep do you get a night??? I'm guessing with a fulltime job, a family and an 18-book contract, you must get by with what ... 2, 3 hours per night?? Or are you just a really proficient sleepwalker??? :)


Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, Mary! You're one tough cookie, writing all those books amid all the rejections. You're an inspiration to the rest of us poor unpubs still getting rejections. Keep up the good work! You're such a funny, fun author-person.

Maggie Brendan said...

Such a great interview. Mary, I just signed my first ever contract--3 book series for Revell. I write historical as well. I can hardly believe that you have an 18 book contract! Wow! Are you chained to the computer? The deadline for my second book is Sept. 1st. What advice do you have for a newbie whose afraid the second one won't be as good as the first book.

Anonymous said...

18????????????????????? To use your phrase: AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!I don't think you need a canary anymore! (Inside joke) I guess the key is to write, write, and then write. Right? However, if I followed your schedule, someone would have to administer last rites. (Had to get in one more write/right/rite) Great interview! I'm going to send ACFW Colorado here to read it. There are great nuggets and tons of inspiration for every writer here.

Love you!

T. Forkner said...

Great interview! Wow, your story is amazing. It's so interesting that you had so many books already written before you became contracted. That is wonderful. It just goes to show that one should never give up.

Paula said...

Kathy Kovach had been bragging on you all over the CO loop. She's obviously so proud of you, Mary. And I'm glad. She often shares nice things about you with me. I'm also glad I took her advice to pop over here. I needed that part about you surviving 40 rejections one year and about it taking you 72 hours to try again. Had a rough rejection this week myself.

Congratulations on the many wonderful things happening to you and thank you for giving us such a beautiful example of perseverance.

Georgiana Daniels said...

Fantastic interview! I am seriously inspired right now. Thanks for sharing your journey Mary!

Missy Tippens said...

Great advice from a great writer! Although I do believe she has a secret twin that helps her crank out those books. :)


Mary Connealy said...

I'm sorry I didn't stop in yesterday. I was helping my baby deal with her wisdom teeth...okay my 25 year old. Still, she doesn't need her mommy that much anymore. I was glad to take care of her until her husband got off work.

Kathy is my 'canary in a mineshaft'. A nickname I gave her because we were both given our first contracts at the same moment.

At that ACFW conference.
Kathy's name got called by Tracie Peterson. I knew I was a possible. I knew they were seriously considering a book of mine. So, they called Kathy's name.

Okay...I've been rejected before...BIG DEAL.

I clapped. Some.

Then Kathy just erupts out of her chair. I'm talking serious EJECTOR SEAT, screaming. She was sitting right near me.

Then she went up and collected her contract and after she'd gone back down from the stage, Tracie said, "And this year we're giving two."

And she called my name.

Kathy was farther along in her process with Barbour then I was and her release date was sooner so I'd email her and ask questions and find out what was going on so I could be warned ahead of time.
Thus ... the Canary in the Mineshaft.

Mary Connealy said...

And I could NEVER had made that eighteen book commitment if I hadn't already had a lot of books written. So let that be a lesson to you ladies...KEEP WRITING. When your chance comes be ready.

Mary Connealy said...

And I don't work 20 hours a day by choice. I'm a raving insomniac. I'm up anyway.

Writing has saved my sanity.

Well, to the extent it's been saved.

Just never mind about my sanity or the lack thereof. The important thing to remember is, not everyone is equipt to spend unbroken hours by themselves having both sides of a conversation.

It's pretty much author and lunatics.

One group gets a lovely, soft padded cell, the other gets rejection letters and cruel contest judging comments. I wonder if the padded cell crowd starts out writing and that's jut the logical end result...

Be AFRAID!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mary!! This is like running into your old friend in the grocery store between the frozen peas and carrots. What are you doing here? LOL.

Very good post. I can only hope some day to be as prolific as you.
I see you with a pseudonym some day so you can write for six publishers just to keep you happy...and you won't blink an eye as you keep writing.

You and Nora Roberts. It's a gift!!!

Stacey said...

WOW! What a full life! Mary, I suppose you could be the poster child to endorse "I can do all things through God who gives me strength." You inspire me, Beautiful Lady!