Thursday, May 8, 2008
An Author Interview with Cheryl Wyatt
Today, I welcome author Cheryl Wyatt to my Authors-Helping-Writers Interview segment. Cheryl writes Contemporary Inspirational Romances with a bent on action-romance for Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired line. I’ve had the pleasure of reading both of Cheryl’s debut novels, A Soldier’s Promise, released in January 2008, and A Soldier’s Family, released in March 2008, and I have to say her military stories hold a lot of excitement with her heroes’ unique occupation—pararescue jumpers, and they touch the heart, as well.
Before we get into writing-related questions, will you tell us something about your hobbies, Cheryl?
Cheryl Wyatt: I love NASCAR racing and music. My husband is huge into the Christian Music Industry as a sound tech and production guy and so we’re always on the road doing concerts. I love it. We like to hit the beach as a family and take the jet ski across the water. We love to watch the fighter jets do maneuvers at the races or near the airport where we often travel from. Anything that contains an element of speed to it…I love. LOL! I also love crafts of all sorts. You name it, I’ve probably done it. Scroll saw, making chess sets with my scroll saw and clay, scrap booking, card making. I love creating things. I also love reading. I’d rather read than watch TV and can often be found snuggled beside my husband, his eyes on the TV and mine Velcroed to a book. We try to have a date night once a week with just me and him, then we also do special things with our girls.
So you definitely have the whole balancing family and career fine-tuned. Your family life sounds fun, Cheryl! I bet it was some exciting the day you received the “acceptance call”. Will you tell us about that?
Cheryl Wyatt: In September of 2006 I received the call from my dream house…Steeple Hill after seven years of waiting. My seventh story sold but I’d written 15 by then.
My debut novels recently released in Jan and Mar 2008. My third, fourth, and fifth books will release early to mid-2009. So, five books have contracted thus far.
That’s awesome, Cheryl. What a great way to start the new year with another book in your series to look forward to.
As one of Seekersville’s contributors, I know you have some experience with contests. Will you share some information about that?
Cheryl Wyatt: I was an avid contest junkie prior to publication. In fact, I didn’t submit for about three years because I felt like God veered me toward the contest circuit instead. I came in dead last the first five or so contests I entered. But within two years, I’d taken suggestions that meshed and grown as a writer to the point I had six or seven different manuscripts place in around twelve RWA, FHL and ACFW contests within a year and a half span. That pushed my work to the top of the slush pile I think and helped my now editor to request my work when I met with her at a conference. She seemed impressed with the list of finals. So I do think contests not only helped get my name out there and get me noticed as an up and coming author (meaning I was getting close to being publishable craft-wise) it grew my character as a Christian and helped me to be able to hear hard things about my writing. Contest feedback definitely helped prepare me for editorial revision notes. I highly recommend contests if you can afford them. That said, the book that sold had recently bombed in the GH. So that goes to show you this industry is highly subjective. Cold contest critiques will help prepare authors for disparate reviews too.
You mentioned that you had placed in several contests, will you share which ones? And have you received any further credits since publication?
Cheryl Wyatt: Pre-published, I placed first in ACFW’s Noble Theme contest in Contemporary Romance, and I placed first in ACFW’s Genesis Contest in Mystery/Suspense/Thriller with a different manuscript. I also double-finaled (getting first and third place) in Colorado Romance Writers Heart of the Rockies Contest. I’ve also placed second in FHL’s Touched by Love and placed in Yellow Rose, TARA, Jasmine, and several other RWA contests.
My debut novel (A Soldier’s Promise) recently received the honor of being number four on eharlequin’s Top Ten Most-Blogged-About-Books. A list which included one other Steeple Hill author (Woo-Hoo!) and several New York Times Bestselling authors. That news was pretty awesome because it included secular authors as well as Inspirational ones. Both of my debut novels have also received Top Picks from Romantic Times, which really set me on cloud nine.
Congratulations, Cheryl, that’s impressive and proves that diligence does pay off.
In addition to working on your stories, how else do you participate in the writing world?
Cheryl Wyatt: I offer a monthly prompt contest on my blog http://www.scrollsquirrel.blogspot.com/ and I do several annual contests for readers as well as writers. I judge many contests and have coordinated contests in the past. I blog regularly on the above blog and also I contribute to The Seeker blog with fourteen other writers. That blog is focused on writing contests but our readership consists of both writers and readers who find the process and conversation fascinating. On http://www.seekerville.blogspot.com/ I used to do reviews but hadn’t had time lately. However, I am going to start blogging for harlequin’s 100,000 book challenge to help literacy. It’s a great cause and I hope more people will join the fun with that. I have some catching up to do as far as blogging brief reviews on books I’ve read so far this year. Only about half the books need to be harlequin books. I encourage anyone reading this, whether they’re an author or a reader to zip over to the harlequin community and see what it’s all about. www.eharlequin.com. Just click the 100,000 book challenge link. I do speak at both writers’ events and at other women’s events and various church-related events. Although I don’t do much at my church as far as that goes. I try to stay low key and just pray behind the scenes. I love to pray for the church and for people and just want to be known there as “Cheryl who loves Jesus and is a great mom to her girls and a wife to Billy” rather than “Cheryl-the-author.” Most people at my church don’t even know that I am published. LOL! When they find out, I try to use the opportunity to encourage them to pursue the God of their given dreams. I have a heart for women and to see them grasp their purpose so they can have maximum impact while on this earth. I am inspired by women who make a difference and hope I can be one of those women. I love to mentor people, both in growing their relationships with God, using their gifts to bring Him honor, and also mentoring new writers. I still have so much to learn, but if I have anything that can help someone else, I see no reason to hold back. It is a huge time commitment, but God always honors it.
I understand you’ve also donated your time to an upcoming auction for writers.
Cheryl Wyatt: Literary Agent Kelly Mortimer right now is auctioning off several things, including first chapter critiques by me to help a fellow writer. I am gentle but honest and thorough. I hope folks will bop over to Kelly’s ebay auction and put in a bid.
That’s something that is in the works for an upcoming week soon. If you are interested in placing a bid, you may want to check back for an update on this. I’ll be sure to post it here on my blog just as soon as I receive the search engine information for ebay.com. I suspect Kelly will also be posting the information on her site when the bidding opens.
Here's the awaited info: The bidding opens on Tuesday, May 20th. Go to http://www.ebay.com/ to bid on a first chapter edit by Cheryl Wyatt. Type: First Chapter Critique by Author Cheryl Wyatt in the search box.
You’re one amazing woman, Cheryl. Thank you for sharing your talents so generously!
Will you tell us about how you got started on this writing journey.
Cheryl Wyatt: I have wanted to write from the time I could hold a crayon. I’m not sure who inspired me, other than God planting the dream in my heart even long before I knew Him. But I read a Robin Lee Hatcher book years ago and it sparked something in me. I started reading the Steeple Hill books when they first came out and then eventually found Barbour’s Heartsong Presents. Something resonated in me and I wanted so badly to be able to write those books. I started hanging out on the Steeple Hill message boards. The authors, especially people like Margaret Daley, and editors and other aspiring authors were so encouraging. It’s a great community and some of those ladies have grown to be my closest friends and fiercest prayer partners today. I didn’t know at first that God was calling me to do it until much later, close to when I sold. I had just sent an e-mail when my eyes fell to my author tagline that says, “Pouring my vial of words over Him.” I felt Him ask me in my heart if I’d promise to always write as worship. I said, “Yes, Lord” and I am not kidding when I say THAT moment The Call came with my first book contract. I KNEW it was something He was blessing and leading me into.
Oh, my, that sends tingles rippling threw me. What an awesome experience, Cheryl!
Just how do you write these great stories?
Cheryl Wyatt: I used to be a pantster but because I now sell on proposal, I have to sort of know where the story is going. So I’m a reformed plotter. Meaning I do a scene index as a loose outline. But I spend a TON of time getting to know my characters. And research is intense and ongoing. More conflict usually gets thrown in as I go along. I usually have sound story structure by the time it’s over, but other people usually have to point it out to me because I have difficulty recognizing it. I don’t set out to plan themes in the book, but they’re always there. And, again, my editor or one of my initial readers such as Camy Tang or Robin Miller usually are cluing me in after the fact that I’ve woven in a certain theme. So I know God has to be in on that for it to come together without my overt knowledge. LOL! I don’t think any two writers write the same. But I can’t imagine trying to create a story without His hand over it and without His heart in it, even if it’s not overtly Christian. Something vital would be missing.
How long did you concentrate on learning the craft of fiction writing before you received your initial offer?
Cheryl Wyatt: It took me seven years to sell. But part of that, I pulled back from submitting after rejection clued me in that I had no idea what I was doing. LOL! I had the grave misconception that, “hey, I wrote a book…so someone should publish it, right?” Wrong. I had no idea the number of people trying to be published. But I must say, for all the competition that’s out there, this community, at least in the CBA and I’ve seen it in ABA too, this community is a community of people who champion one another’s dreams. I couldn’t have gotten to this place had others not helped and mentored me. So I hope I can continue to grow as a writer so I can give back to others who will then realize their dream of publication.
Will you share some information about the rejection process with us?
Cheryl Wyatt: I received three rejections before I sold…one of which was a detailed revision request which led to a sale after I made the suggested changes. I think I would have had more rejections had I submitted more. I’ve received a rejection since I sold too and that one stung because authors don’t really talk about how common that is and I thought I’d let my editors down. But I’ve sold three books since that time so I know rejection is just a necessary part of this industry. Rejection didn’t affect my writing except to make me all the more determined to dig in there and make my writing better. And to better communicate with my editor about the sorts of stories that will (or won’t) work.
How did you personally handle the years of learning and waiting for publication?
Cheryl Wyatt: Spiritually…staying rooted in God’s written word. The Bible is living and while it sometimes seems tedious to read it when I’d rather be reading a fiction book that’s winking at me from the night stand, the fruits of time spent in the Bible come out later at unexpected times. It’s like trying to live without water. We don’t know how thirsty we are and how it can harm us when we don’t drink deeply of His presence and His promises=The Bible. So I try to put the Bible first before my other reading and give it more attention.
Writing wise, to stay on track, some writing buddies and I have writing challenges. We pick a time devoted to writing. And we check in via phone or e-mail once every hour or two and see who got the highest word count. Then we offer a Starbucks gift card to the winner sometimes as incentive. With deadlines, it’s easier to discipline myself because I’m under legal contract to turn the work in, and to turn in quality work. It’s a matter of ethics and respect for my publishing house. When one author is late, it’s like that I Love Lucy rerun where Lucy and her friend are getting behind on the candy assembly line…so they have to start stuffing candy and chocolate in their bras. LOL! It really is a serious thing when an author misses a deadline. And while editors understand that life intrudes, they want adequate warning. So I give myself cushy deadlines to allow for emergencies and life intrusions. I don’t set a daily word count because when I’m spewing out a rough draft, I average 5,000-20,000 words per day. I don’t write every day. Some days I’m gathering data/research. Filling out character charts. Mulling over the story and characters in my mind. Or I might be brainstorming with a writing pal my characters’ GMC or arcing out my disasters, etc. for the story and getting feedback. Every day is spent doing something writing-related. But as far as typing out a certain word count every day, I don’t unless I’m rough drafting. Then I set everything else aside to do that only. I think conferences are also crucial for networking. Among other things, it shows industry professionals that you are serious about writing.
You mentioned that you had completed fifteen novels before your seventh one sold, do you intend to try and sell all of the other stories you have written?
Cheryl Wyatt: I do hope to sell most of the later ones. The early ones…about the first four… I chalk up to learning. LOL! And I dearly hope no one ever sets eyes on them…they’re really, really bad. So bad, I don’t think there is any way to fix them. LOL! But I’ve yet to turn in all my contest winners because right now my editors keep asking for books in my Wings of Refuge series (about a team of USAF pararescue jumpers and the ladies who capture their hearts). As soon as I get done with that series, I’ll start turning the others in.
Can you give us an idea of how long it originally took you to write a story in comparison to the timeframe it takes you to write one now?
Cheryl Wyatt: That is an interesting question because I have always written extremely fast. I penned A Soldier’s Promise in 8 days and A Soldier’s Family in 4. But that doesn’t include the years of research or weeks of character development and weeks of polishing and layering and proofreading. Even though my friends call me prolific and I do write extremely fast, I hold myself back because I don’t want the books to take over my life and intrude on time with my family. So I don’t put out near as many books as I could. Well, I could, but at what cost to my family? So I pace myself to about 3-5 books a year right now. One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the lack of security I’d have in having months to years to let a story gel. With 90-120 day deadlines or shorter, I don’t have the luxury of setting a story aside then coming back to it with fresh eyes. So I have to write cleaner, better the first time around. So it takes me a little longer now to get the rough draft down, but my rough drafts aren’t too far off from what I actually turn in. I am not as confident turning stuff in because many times I don’t have time to run it through a dozen critters for feedback. So it’s definitely challenged me to be a better writer the first time around. Though I think when penning a rough draft, new writers should throw caution to the wind and not worry about editing. Just get the story down. Get it written before you get it right. Otherwise you may never finish it, or have confidence that you can actually complete a book.
Good advice! Cheryl, tell us what a typical writing day is like for you.
Cheryl Wyatt: I spend from around ten am to about two-thirty every day except weekends (unless I’m on a deadline) with writing or writing-related tasks. I usually work out. Then eat. Then answer reader mail, e-mail and blog. Then I work on the current project for the rest of the day, while checking e-mail every couple of hours if I’m expecting something from my editor. I try not to write when my children are home or awake. Then I usually spend the evening between 9-11 going over what I wrote that day, or reading a fiction book or a craft book. Or judging contest entries, etc. If I have edits or galleys…I do them immediately because you never know what life will throw your way. Best not to put things off, especially things under contract. That always takes precedence over blogging, or promotion or online time. Always. I stay away from the internet when a deadline is looming. I strive to turn things in early.
As a fairly new author, how important do you feel agent representation is in this industry for first sales?
Cheryl Wyatt: I think it depends on the author and the house they write for. I don’t need an agent to sell to Steeple Hill. But I’ve found that I do not like negotiating contracts, so an agent can assist me with career guidance and be one more set of eyes to go over my stuff before it goes to my editor. I never want to slip into turning in shoddy work. I want each book to be better than the last. I also want career guidance. So it depends on what the author wants the agent for. If an author understands contract law and knows the ins and outs of a boiler plate contract, and the “negotiables” then they probably don’t need an agent. At this point, Steeple Hill and Barbour are two houses that still take unagented submissions. That said, I think the wrong agent can adversely affect an author’s career. So I think both (author and agent) should take their time in getting to know one another and find a good fit. Someone who loves the author’s work and will champion them. I do think things move faster when you have an agent and I do think most editors prefer to work with agents because one phone call can take care of lots of business and contains communication. I do like that I can still work closely with my editor, yet have someone else deal with the contract stuff.
Will you give us an idea of how revisions work once you are contracted?
Cheryl Wyatt: It depends on the project. My first book was heavily revised. It went through two sets of revisions in fact. The first time, pre-sale, it went from being a Romantic Suspense to a Romance. Then there were also revisions, to strengthen the heroine and a couple plot points, post-sale. My second book, I had about a page and a half of broad and general notes post-sale. My third book needed NO revisions! I think that’s really rare though. My fourth book will have pretty heavy revisions and possibly a rewrite according to the synopsis. I’m going to have to cut the prologue and first chapter and start the book with chapter two. And that’s only one of the revision points. But I trust my editors. They know the readership and what sells well better than I do. Most of my reader letters mention things my editors suggested I add. Then after revisions comes line edits. Then galleys come last. So the book goes through about three or four sets of edits before being shelf-ready.
In regard to self-promoting your novels, what does your publishing house expect of you?
Cheryl Wyatt: Harlequin Steeple Hill is great about promoting their authors. And I think they do well at promoting their authors equally. But even though our books are offered in the book club, where readers can get a subscription and plus the books are sold at places like Wal-mart which is a major distribution, the books have a relatively short shelf life. So marketing can only help. I think each author must do some type of marketing and promotion, even if that’s book signings or digital marketing, such as blog tours or whatever the author has time or money or interest to do. There isn’t huge pressure from Harlequin to market our stuff as opposed to some publishing houses, but they do suggest ways we can increase our sales, such as digital marketing which I think is a wave of the future. They supply each new author with The Authors Digital Tool Kit which has suggestions for promotion, such as how we can get our bios up on the eharlequin site, etc. It’s not pressure as much as it is a willingness to help us get the word out about ourselves and our books which in turn will obviously help sales. I think it’s important for readers to feel a connection with the author.
Blogging, and having a presence on places such as My Space, Facebook, Shoutlife, etc. Podcasts, video trailers, etc. My publisher has invested time and money into me, so it’s important to me to do what I can money and time-wise to help promote my books and up my sales. The market is competitive. Sales matter so promo makes sense. In addition to having really nice pens (because I’ve found those go over better than postcards) I do giveaways for readers and writers and also have a steady online presence. I’m accessible to readers with my author address (different than my personal address) and author e-mail address. I like to keep connected to readers and treat them like the blessing they are. I think that helps because when people like you and feel important to your work, they’ll tell people about your books.
Many new writers don’t know when to stop editing and revising. How do you decide when your manuscript is ready for your editor’s or agent’s eyes?
Cheryl Wyatt: When it’s time to turn it in. LOL! I never feel it’s fully ready and especially not now that my deadlines are much shorter. I always have what Mary Connealy terms “Sender’s Remorse” and I have a sense of dread every time I mail something off, even though I know I’ve tried my very best on the project. I always try to have stuff turned in a couple weeks early at least. But not so early that it’s rushed and written poorly. I really feel unpublished authors should forget about editing until the book is complete, unless they know they can finish a book. Once an author is close to being publishable, I feel feedback from a freelance editor is helpful, unless the person’s critique partners are working with editors or industry professionals and can be very frank and honest without changing the person’s voice.
You’ve given us such wonderful guidance and direction so far, Cheryl. Thanks so much for sharing all this with us. I have one last question for you, in general, do you have any further suggestions for weary authors-in-training?
Cheryl Wyatt: Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Stay teachable. Be willing to hear hard things about your writing. And be willing to face the fact that you might not be as far along as you thought. Ask God to put you with people who can help you on the road. And who will compliment your writing and get your voice. He is faithful. If this is something He wants you to do, He will open doors you never dreamed.
Awesome, Cheryl! Now comes the time for you to share some information about your published books. Tell us a little about your debut novels.
A Soldier’s Promise by Cheryl Wyatt (January 2008 Love Inspired)
A Soldier’s Promise was inspired by two friends who lost daughters to leukemia. Watching those girls and their mothers as they lived every mom’s nightmare, I thought, if courage could cure cancer, these girls’ fight and faith alone would have eradicated it from the earth. So that line stuck and a story unfolded from there about an eight year old boy who wanted to meet a special ops soldier.
A Soldier’s Family by Cheryl Wyatt (March 2008 Love Inspired)
A Soldier’s Family was inspired by a hard season I went through. I had a serious injury which required extensive reconstruction of my hip bone, socket, head of my femur and part of my pelvis. From injury to progression from wheelchair to walker to cane to full weight-bearing and release from PT (Pain and Torture...errrr I meant Physical Therapy) was about three years. Very tough time as I was in constant excruciating pain. So I took my pain and PT woes out on poor Manny. LOL! This book was birthed out of that hard season. Only I'm sorta jealous because he got to injure himself in a skydiving accident. At least he did it having FUN! LOL!
Next up is Ready-Made-Family (April 2009 Love Inspired)
A Soldier’s Reunion (June, 2009 Love Inspired)
And Book five in Wings of Refuge (yet to be named) also out in 2009
Cheryl: Since there is a gap between books two and three, I will be keeping readers up on happenings in fictional Refuge and the first two books' characters. I'll do this by having the cat who skitters through the series (Psychoticat) be a quest blogger once a week. I'd love folks to drop by and support him as he laments things like being forced to lounge around on fancy aztec tile and stare at people's hairy ankles all day. And also, he's sure to mention Celia forgetting his tuna AGAIN. These blogs will bridge the gap between the second and third book. My blog address is www.scrollsquirrel.blogspot.com
What a creative idea. I look forward to hearing Psychoticat’s take on life in Refuge through the coming months. Thanks so much for sharing all this with us, Cheryl. You’re a great inspiration to aspiring authors. I wish you and yours all the best and much success to you with your writing. I look forward to a long list of additions to your already impressive contracted list. Write on, Cheryl, and I know many of us will read on!
Cheryl Wyatt: Thank you so much for having me. I had a blast and felt honored to be featured.
That concludes this week’s featured author interview. Leave a comment for this post and you'll be entered into a drawing for the fabulous SET of Cheryl's two debut novels. Yes, not just one, but you could win both, A Soldier's Promise and A Soldier's Family autographed by Cheryl, with the luck of the draw. The draw will take place next Wednesday evening at 9:00 p.m. (my time, because I retire early. That's Eastern time if anyone likes cutting things close!) Good luck, everyone!
May 15/08: Deb W. (nm8r67) Your the lucky Winner of Cheryl's books. Please email me at eileenastels[at]rogers[dot]com with your snail mail addy.
Next week’s featured author will be Michael Snyder, author of My Name Is Russell Fink, released this past February. I’m looking forward to sharing his road-to-publication story with you all next Thursday.