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Monday, May 23, 2011

LESSONS LEARNED

By Caridad Pineiro


The philosopher Kahil Gibran said, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

As romance writers that sentiment touches us in at least two ways. First because we need to give of our real emotions in order to truly breathe life into our works. The second way that sentiment applies is in how we pay forward what we have learned in order to help other writers achieve success.

I hope that by [reading this], you will feel as if I have given you a piece of myself to take with you and inspire you to keep on reaching for your dreams.

I’d like to share with you some of the lessons that I’ve learned in over a decade of being a published author. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that it’s been that long and other times it seems as if it’s been forever.

I guess that’s Lesson number 1: It’s never a smooth road for anyone no matter what they tell you to the contrary.

Everyone has moments where they think they’ll never be able to write another word. Or they wonder where their next story idea will come from. They agonize over making their first sale or their fortieth and think, “Why do I do this?”

The answer to the why should be easy: Because you can’t imagine not writing.  So in those moments where you’re asking yourself that big “Why?” realize that you’re not alone and every one of us in this room has likely asked themself the same thing.

Which is Lesson number 2: You’re not alone in this gig. Look around you at the sisterhood you have. They are your touchstones for those times when you feel as if you’re losing your way.  They will cheer you on as you near the finish line and fold you in their embrace when you reach your goal, whether your goal was finishing your first page or selling your millionth book.

Lesson number 3: Just over a decade ago over an Easter weekend I got the call that every writer wants. Someone wanted to buy my book.

I was visiting with my mother-in-law on Good Friday when my husband called to say some editor wanted me to call her. He also told me that he had almost hung up on her because she had sounded like a telemarketer. Good thing he didn’t.

The editor said she wanted to buy the book that would help launch the Encanto line – NOW AND ALWAYS. The editor told me she would call back in a few days with more details on the offer and she did. Imagine my surprise when she said she wanted to buy two books!

In the eighteen months that followed, Kensington bought six more books from me and I thought, “I may have a career.” My editor and I became friends and my publisher loved me. I was one of the poster girls for the Encanto line. And then I got another call, but this time it was one no author wants: My editor was leaving the house.

My new editor left within a month, but luckily the next editor I was assigned was nice. In fact, she called to say they were interested in buying a ninth book from me and my concern lessened.  But while we were negotiating for that ninth book, another call came: Encanto was going into hiatus.

Those who have worked in the television industry know what those words mean: The line was being killed. I didn’t sell that ninth book and to this day, the last two books I had written were never released.  I went from having a career one day to wondering if I’d ever sell another book to this publisher.

I guess the moral of that lesson is: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Being published is a business. While you may be friends with your editor and your agent and even your publisher, the bottom line is that you have to protect your interests and to do so you have to make sure that you have a way to sustain your career.

Sustaining a career is often difficult.  After Encanto folded I was in a dark mood. But on top of that, I had been wanting to write something different for quite some time and my dark mood was perfect for what I wanted to write: a vampire story.  I was a fan of Buffy and the X-Files and had decided to write a story that combined elements of suspense and the paranormal. That story would eventually become DARKNESS CALLS.

Anyway, I had secured an agent at a well-known and respected literary agency. She wanted me to work on women’s fiction and become the Latina Terry McMillan and so I tried. In the meantime, I asked her to send around the three chapters I had done of my vampire story.  My agent told me, vampires won’t sell. No one is ready vampires, but I told her, please try to sell this book.

In the meantime, I went to work on the women’s fiction story, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to write dark and I decided over one Christmas break that I would do just that. I went home and wrote the book for me, because I loved the characters and the story.

Nearly two and half years later, I had not sold that story. I heard over and over, vampires don’t sell. And I wish I had a penny for every time I heard “We’re looking for the Latina Terry McMillan.” I could have retired long ago. 

My agent and I parted ways and I started trying to sell my vamp book on my own while I kept on working on more contemporaries.  Then one day I was at RWA National and saw that an editor to whom I had sent some proposals had a free slot. I thought, “Why not?”

The editor was quite glad to see me. She asked me if I had sent off my work as she had suggested.  I explained that I had not received any letter back from her and the editor apologized. She had left something to go out while she was on maternity leave and a mix-up had clearly occurred. We talked about those projects and sending them to Brenda Chin and then this editor asked me what else I had.

I told her that my latest story was not right for her. Harlequin didn’t do dark violent vampire stories. She asked me to tell her more about the story and I did.

She said, “Send it to me.” I said again, “But it’s not for you.”

She said again, “Send it to me.” So I did.

What did I learn from that experience?

The first was Lesson 4: Never stop reaching for your dreams. My mother always told me that nothing worthwhile was ever easy and she was right. The first vampire sale was difficult, but it opened doors for me. There are now eleven books in THE CALLING Vampire series with three more coming out in 2012.  What would not have happened if I had given up.

The second thing I learned, namely Lesson Number 5, was to never argue with an editor, especially one who is asking you to send her your book.

There is also another thing to remember about arguing with editors.   Many of you know I have a full time job. I spend about twelve hours every day on that job and commuting. I write on the train going to and from work and spend long hours on the weekends writing.  I don’t normally write at night because I’m usually tired after that long day at work, although I will do so if I have to.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had to do that several times. The first time was for Encanto when I got a call from my editor who said, “Can you write a Christmas book for us?” That was at the beginning of July and she wanted the book by August. She said that she knew I was one of the few writers for the line who could write that quickly.  I knew it would take a lot of work, but I knew she was in a bind and so I did it.

The same thing happened at Harlequin. I was actually on vacation on a beach in San Diego when my cell phone rang. It was my editor calling.  They wanted to do a vampire Christmas story, but they needed it right away. It was July and they needed the story by August. Very familiar, right?  She said she knew I was one of the few writers who could do it that quickly and do it well. I said, “Okay.”

I started writing on that beach in San Diego and it wasn’t easy. When I got home I worked on it day and night, but I delivered the story. It would become FATE CALLS in the first HOLIDAY WITH A VAMPIRE.

I got a similar call just a few weeks ago. My editor wanted me to do another vampire Christmas story, but this time for HQN and of course I said, “Yes.”

Something similar also happened with my Chicas series. I had written a synopsis and three chapters and my new agent was shopping it around, but there was just one problem.  Editors were saying “We know she can do vampires, but can she do women’s fiction.” They wanted to see the entire book.

That was rough, but after talking to my agent, I knew that having the entire book would help me sell it. Because I didn’t want to lose the momentum that seemed to be building for the book, I started working on that book. I worked on it day and night and in a month, I had finished it.

My agent sent it out and as I had imagined, more than one house wanted it. Over a Thanksgiving weekend, we had an auction as several publishers put in their bids for what would become the first book in the CHICAS series.

So why did I do this? Why did I push myself so hard?

Remember my mom? Nothing worthwhile is easy? I could have said “No”, but my editors and agent were in a bind. They needed me to help them out. I could have been obstinate and said “No way, I’m busy or I’m on vacation” or any other excuse you can imagine.  But who do you think those editors thought of next time they were in a bind?

If you said Nora Roberts you would probably be right, but seriously, when it comes to doing revisions or turning your life upside down to meet a deadline, remember Lesson Number 6: Don’t be a Diva.

It seems like it’s time to mention that I do eat, sleep and spend time with my family and friends. Although there have been some rumors over the years, I am not a robot, clone or a vampire. Some legal colleagues may have alternately called me a shark or a tough cookie, but the reality of it is I’m human.  I like to sleep, I love to eat which is why I am currently on a diet and I do bleed, usually red, white and blue.

I’m emotional, sometimes too much which is when lesson number 2 comes in handy and I remember that I have my sisters with me who understand.  But inevitably, there are people who don’t understand.

They don’t get it. How could they not think that last book was the greatest thing since sliced bread? How can they not see my genius? My amazing metaphors and similes? The sensitivity beneath my brooding and oh-so-sexy six pack alpha hero?

Notice the perfectly planned segue to Lesson number 7 – my favorite number by the way since I was born on the 7th. 

As I mentioned before, I recently was asked to do another Christmas vampire novella (remember lesson number 6?)

I didn’t have a lot of time to write the book which was a story based on Dicken’s Christmas Carol, only this time it was a guardian angel being sent down to save a vampire. The story had various visions as the angel shows the vampire what he’s done wrong and invites him to change his ways in order to save his soul.

When I finished the novella, I was quite pleased with it. I thought it had really come together nicely. I sent it off to my agent to review since she likes to see what I’m doing and offer up light edits and general suggestions.

I got a rather unexpected call from my agent a couple of days later. She was confused. She didn’t understand what was going on in the story. What were these visions about?  Huh? I was surprised. Hadn’t she ever heard of a Christmas Carol? The story must really suck if she didn’t even understand it.  But what could I do? It was Thursday and the story was due the next day.

I e-mailed my editor and told her I was finished, but had some things I wanted to tweak. I asked if I could deliver the story on Monday. She said yes, of course. It’s not a problem.  I went home and went through the story over and over. I must had read and tweaked it four or five times, but the bottom line was that I still liked it and it followed the proposal which I had submitted.

I couldn’t understand why my agent didn’t like it, but I had little choice. I had to believe in the story I had written.  I sent it in and to my relief, less than a week later my editor sent me a note saying it was “a fantastic novella.” That the character development and pacing was spot on. 

Big whew. I was so relieved because I had not wanted to disappoint my editor after she had gone out on a limb to ask me to work on this anthology. 

But I learned another lesson, namely: Not everyone will love what you write. Your critique partners may not understand what you’re trying to do. You may get bad reviews. DO NOT . . . repeat . . . DO NOT engage.

Repeat after me: DO NOT ENGAGE.

We’ve seen too many train wrecks lately where authors have taken to task someone who posted a bad review. Not only does it guarantee a very public pillory, but it makes you – the author – come across as a Diva.  Again, see Lesson number 6.

That brings us to the last and maybe the most important thing I’d like to share with you. Lesson Number 8.  In Numerology, 8 is the most powerful number because it represents the life path of someone who is charged with a nature that possesses individualistic desires, demands independence, and needs personal attainment.

But if those characteristics are the Yang of number 8, the Yin in such a competitive spirit is self-doubt, selfishness and maybe even envy.

If you’re not yet published, have you ever looked at someone else and thought, “How did they sell that book? Mine was better. How come I didn’t sell my wonderful story?”

If you’re published, how often do you check your own or other’s Amazon numbers to see who is selling better? Have you ever wondered why someone’s career left yours in the dust? Or why you don’t have the biggest line at the book fair?

I know I’m a Number 8 at times. I also know it’s probably the most destructive part of my nature: I’m a competitor. I want to be the best that I can be, but here’s the key and a very valuable Lesson Number 8:  You need to learn to measure your success in different ways. Ways that are positive rather than self-destructive.

So with that I want to leave you with probably the most important part of my gift: How I measure success.

If I get a royalty statement that says I earned a penny, I consider myself to be successful because I am a penny richer than I was the day before. Pennies add up, especially if you’re a frugal Celt like I am.

I consider myself successful if I sell a proposal because I have people with whom to share that success. There’s a reason for the expression “It’s lonely at the top.” Somewhere along the way that lonely woman forgot what was important, namely family and friends and not fame.

But even if I do not sell that proposal, I consider myself successful. “Why” you may ask?

Because I set a goal for myself to do that proposal and send it out and I successfully completed that task.

Finally, more so than any other reason, I consider myself successful because I am doing something very special to me: I am writing the stories in my heart. I am writing about the thing that I consider more important than anything else in this world: Love.

And I consider myself successful because I am giving you a piece of my heart in every story and that is a true and special gift.

Never forget that you, too, are successful every day that you put a pen to paper and follow your dreams.

Never forget that each of you has a unique gift within you to share. A blessed gift which only you possess and can bequeath.~




Caridad Pineiro is an award-winning and multi-talented author, who writes paranormal, romantic suspense and contemporary romances. Visit her at http://www.caridadpineiro.com/.

2 comments:

  1. Hey Caridad,

    Your lessons are spot on. I was also born on the seventh, and "Do Not Engage" is a great lesson for all areas of our lives. Thanks for the great post.

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  2. Caridad ...

    This was a wonderful presentation at out May Luncheon. I am so glad you added it here for everyone to read.

    Your heart in paying it forward is a wonderful example.

    Thank you for sharing your lessons and for being a wonderful friend.

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