Sunday, June 19, 2011

Best-selling Author Carol Ericson - Two Giveaways

Update: CONGRATULATIONS to Mary J. Forbes and Sandy! You are the two winners of the contest. I'm sending you both instructions on how to claim your prize. If you have any issues, please let me know.

A warm welcome to my friend, Carol Ericson.

I’m so excited to have her as my first guest blogger. Carol and I met through GIAM, a group for writers who are serious about their craft. Every week as we share what we’ve accomplished, she blows me away each time. She’s one of the most dedicated and prolific authors I know. With ten novels already published, she is constantly weaving more suspenseful tales with lots of steamy romance. And her book, A Silverhill Christmas recently won the HOLT Medallion Award of Merit!

Here’s her bio:

Best selling series romance author Carol Ericson suffers from a lack of privacy. She always has a few characters floating in her head as well as snippets of dialogue and several “what if” scenarios. She periodically purges all these voices and images by writing stories of romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue and self publication. When she’s not writing, Carol is busy reading other fabulous stories or running to her teenage sons’ soccer matches, water polo games and basketball games. Carol and her family live in Southern California near the beach, where Carol is now officially the shortest person in her household.

It was so daring of her to launch into indie publishing since she is already a successful author with a publisher who is a household name. I was dying to have her share her experience.

Carol, please tell us what made you decide to explore this publishing route.

“Taut, edge-of-the-seat contemporary romantic suspense tales of intrigue and desire” is the standard description for Harlequin’s Intrigue line. And I love writing those tales. I’ve been writing Intrigues for Harlequin since Dec. ’07 when my first Intrigue was released, and I haven’t stopped since. I enjoy writing for Harlequin and with it the ability to write short series like my McClintock Brothers series, my current series, Brothers in Arms, and my upcoming series about a creepy house on the coast of California. Since I’m so busy writing for Harlequin, why dip my toe into the world of self publishing? Good question!

Like most writers who eventually sell a book to a major publisher, I had written several books by the time my first sale came around. When I sold my first book to Intrigue, I had three completed manuscripts (and a half-completed manuscript) tucked away. I had submitted one of those manuscripts to Intrigue before and it had been rejected; however, I had re-written the thing a few times. So after my first sale, my editor asked me for other projects. I hauled out my 3 ½ manuscripts and sent them off with high hopes. All three...and a half...were rejected...on my birthday.

Ha – rejection is like red meat to an author. I got to work on a brand new fresh book and sold that one as my second Intrigue. My eighth Intrigue, Mountain Ranger Recon, was just released in April. But I still had those 3 ½ manuscripts under the virtual bed along with a completed single title romantic comedy.

As the buzz surrounding self publishing grew louder and louder, I took a second look at my 3 ½ manuscripts and figured, why not? My editor hadn’t rejected the stories because they were awful or poorly written or boring. They just did not fit the Harlequin Intrigue line. I got comments like—too slick, too single title in nature, wrong setting, wrong professions for hero/heroine, not enough hooks. So the stories weren’t right for Intrigue, but did that mean they weren’t right for other readers to enjoy? So I took the self pub plunge.

I started with Dead Air and Smokescreen because those two books were the most polished. They had been edited and both had placed in and won several contests. Before I started formatting the books, I read through them. I was pleasantly surprised that they’d held up well and were good, compelling stories. However, after writing ten Intrigues, it was crystal clear to me why they didn’t fit the Intrigue mold. Other than a heroine in jeopardy, they didn’t possess any of the standard category romance hooks. Also, both of the heroines are a little rough around the edges—Carly in Dead Air is a loud, brash radio talk show host, who lives for ratings and Deirdre in Smokescreen is a rock singer in a club band, a former smoker and party girl. The tone of the books is a little grittier than my Intrigues and the sex a little hotter.

I formatted Dead Air for Smashwords and Amazon, and I formatted Smokescreen for Amazon only (it’s not too bad as long as you don’t use a lot of weird formatting in your original Word document). I decided to hold off on the third book as it needed more polish and editing. Once the books were formatted and ready to go, I needed a couple of great covers. I turned to Rae Monet (, who does my website and did a few of my covers when I wrote for Red Sage Publishing. She did not disappoint. I also got lucky in that she used cover model Jimmy Thomas on the Dead Air cover. Jimmy is very good about promoting his covers and he posted the Dead Air cover on his Facebook page where it generated several comments.

Once I had formatted the books and gotten my fabulous covers, it was time to publish. Several clicks later, the books were available on Amazon. Now I had to let people know they were available. Ah, yes, that five-letter word – promo. I started with my Intrigue fans and sent out a newsletter announcement to them. I posted the announcement on Facebook and Twitter. I sent in an announcement to NovelTalk (, I announced the news to my online groups, and I put the book covers on my website ( And I’m still learning.

I’m at the beginning of this journey, and I’m here to tell you that no, I didn’t sell a million copies of the books in the first month. But I have made enough to cover the cost of the covers and the sales keep dripping in bit by bit. And I have the opportunity now to release my romantic comedy, which I love.

Will self-pubbing (or indie pubbing as it’s now being called) replace my traditional contracts with Harlequin Intrigue? No. I’m hoping there’s some cross-over from my self-pubbed books to my Intrigues. In fact, I can see it already in increased sales for my March and April Intrigues. Once an Intrigue has been out for a few months, the sales begin to taper off, but both of my spring Intrigues have seen a resurgence in sales on Amazon—and I’m attributing that to my two self-pubbed e-books.

So whether I sell a million copies or a couple hundred, I’m glad I took the plunge. It’s exciting to have control over your books from start to finish. It’s interesting to keep track of sales and which promo efforts are paying off. And it’s lovely to give life to books that still hold a place in your heart.

O brave new world!

Wow, Carol, thanks so much for sharing with us and for giving away a copy of Dead Air and Navy SEAL Security. Your cover of Navy SEAL Security received a lot of publicity right after Osama Bin Laden was captured. Talk about great timing for you.

Enter to win a free copy of one of Carol’s books by leaving a comment. If you are a follower or become one and leave a comment, your name will be entered twice. Two winners will be chosen with names posted on Monday by noon 6 pm(EST).

Feel free to ask Carol any questions. She’ll swing by briefly in the morning, but will be back for the rest of the day after she’s done cheering on her son at his soccer tournament.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Cutting it as a published author takes guts, stamina, and optimism. When an agent rejects your query letter, when an editor rejects your submission, when a reader or worse a bona fide critic writes a review that feels like a knife in the heart—and we all pray that never happens—you need to know how to persevere through it.

Writing contests have great value, but an overlooked reason to enter is that they will prepare you for the abrasive parts of this industry. The hurtful parts that will either wear you down, making you reconsider writing at all or the parts that will toughen you up, testing your mettle. A contest is a good way to put yourself out there and receive feedback that will highlight your strengths as well as your weaknesses.

I go to Stephie Smith’s Contest Chart for a comprehensive overview of upcoming contests. I love that she doesn’t limit the chart to RWA contests, as there are many others available to writers.

I’ve never taken the time to count how many contests I’ve entered or how many times I’ve made the finals until doing this blog post. When I first started entering, I had no idea I’d turn into a contest crack-head. At the start of 2011, I finally created an excel spreadsheet, but I highly recommend starting one to keep track of expenses, entry requirements, region of the writing organization, name of contest, and your results.

After combing through my contest email folder, I counted up all of the contests I’ve entered and whether I made the finals. If I entered a specific contest in 2010 and 2011, I only counted it once, and the same with making the finals. For example, I entered The Crested Butte Sandy contest in 2010 and 2011 and made the finals both times for two separate entries (I withdrew as a finalist this year since the final judge is an agent and I already have one), but I only counted it once. In total, I’ve entered 34 different contests, made the finals 21 times, but only won five. I received four requests from editors (three for KINDRED, one for PARADOX), but not from a contest I actually won, only from ones I’ve finaled in oddly enough. I’m not thrilled with those numbers, but I share them in case you’re wondering what my contest experience has been like over the past 18 months.

As I look back over the various contests I’ve entered, I took the following factors into consideration as I came up with my recommended list:

• Time between entry deadline, finalist announcement, and winner determined. Shoot for contests with no more than 6-8 weeks between the entry deadline and finalist announcement. Try to avoid contests with big black holes aka no finalist or winner determination date listed, unless the final judge is a dream agent or editor. Knowing the dates will help you plan which contests to enter and keep your sanity. Stagger your entries so the timing of the feedback from one contest can help you on the first round of another. Factor in a week delay to receive finalist results. Top-notch contests are rarely late by more than a few days.

• I gave an extra point to a contest that had both an agent and an editor as final judges. If they also had a bookseller, I gave them a bonus point. You may or may not end up agented. Either way, you need an editor to be interested in your work in order to get a contract. Once published, booksellers need to be intrigued enough to stock their shelves with your product. Although I tied for third place in the West Houston Emily contest, I felt like a winner because the bookseller had ranked KINDRED OF THE FALLEN as his first place choice. Always keep the big picture or endgame in mind. Sure you want an agent, and of course you need an editor, but you’ll make more sales if booksellers like your work. Getting their feedback, before you are published, is priceless.

• There were a lot of really good contests, but if I didn’t receive any feedback from a final judge then I had to mark the contest down. If there were two final judges, an agent and editor, and I didn’t receive a single comment, then the contest did not make the list. Yes, some agents and editors are more generous with their comments than others, and contest coordinators can’t force someone to give you feedback. However, they do have some control. Every contest that had the final judge fill out a score sheet or questionnaire is on my recommended list. I don’t understand why more contests don’t do this. If you’re lucky enough to qualify for the finals over 25-100 other entrants, depending on the size of the contest, there should be some system in place to strongly encourage the final judge to provide finalists with a comment or two. Score sheets or a brief questionnaire on what they did or didn’t like seems to make the most sense in my opinion.

• Some regions/chapters tend to have a good mix of published and unpublished preliminary judges who take the time to give considerate feedback. Although the comments may not be positive, if they are constructive, then I am grateful because they truly wanted to help me improve.

• Ease of submission turned out to be pretty important to me once I crossed the double digit threshold. It is 2011, electronic submissions should be a given. I also appreciate contests with electronic forms, especially if they allow you to fill out one form for multiple entries.

• What is the prize? Personally, I like a check or a PayPal deposit. When I started to receive prize money, a light bulb went off. You’re paying $20-30 per entry. Many of these contests easily receive 35-50 entries for some of their categories, maybe a little less in some, maybe a lot more in others. Why can’t they reimburse the finalists with the amount of their entry and reward the winners with a little extra? If the smaller ones can afford to do this, I know the larger ones can. If I didn’t receive a check, did I get a quality certificate I’d actually like to keep or some other prize?

• Does the contest have a decent track record for requests from final judges? Are the winners listed in the Romance Writers Report, even better, are they named at the RWA National Conference? Contests are a way for you to buy exposure, so spend wisely.

• Did the contest give entrants an opportunity to update their pages, incorporating feedback from the first round judges, before submission to the final judge? This one knocked a lot of contests off my recommended list. A contest should be more than a fundraiser; it should help the entrants in every way possible, in my opinion. This includes allowing them to tweak their entries based on preliminary criticism, so that the final judge, an agent or editor, reads the finalists’ strongest work.

Okay, so here are the contests I recommend:

The Emily: an agent, an editor, and a bookseller for final judges. Also, the preliminary round critiques were insightful.
Windy City Four Seasons: an agent and editor are final judges. The coordinators nailed this one with detailed score sheets for the final judges. Not only did I get a numerical breakdown covering plot, characterization, hook, etc., but there was even space for additional comments, which both judges provided. And I received an engraved clock as my prize.

The MARA Fiction from the Heartland: both an agent and an editor are final judges. You get constructive feedback all around. I received an editor request and my agent found me through this contest. However, my agent was not one of the final judges who read my work, see How I Landed My Agent for more information. The coordinator, Heather Snow, was also extremely friendly, generous with sharing her experience on the contest circuit, and responsive. I have to write a testimonial for the MARA. Prize money is given to the winner.

Music City Melody of Love: there are only three categories, so competition can be stiff. The coordinator, Jody Wallace, was super sweet and if you make the finals she will offer to proofread your submission before it goes to the final judge, provided you get it to her prior to the deadline. Talk about going above and beyond. This chapter truly wants to set up their finalists for success. You receive $$ if you win and a one year free membership to their chapter. Holly Root was the final judge when I entered. She was the only final judge I’ve ever had to make handwritten notes on the manuscript pages. I was truly blown away by my experience in this contest. Testimonial coming their way.

The Crested Butte Sandy: fantastic coordinator (Theresa Rizzo), easy submission process, not a RWA contest which gives you a different perspective from the judges. If you don’t write pure romance, I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Even if you write straight romance, they have a category for it. Prize $$ for first and second place winners. My testimonial is already written, I just have to send it.

Southwest Florida Hold Me, Thrill Me: the final judge is given a score sheet, so you understand why you received your ranking, along with comments. And I received prize money.

Toronto Gold/Catherine: the final judge is asked to answer two questions about your entry, which is better than nothing. First place category winners will have their work read by both an editor and agent.

NTRWA Great Expectations: Although I didn’t get any feedback from the final judge, I’m recommending this contest. It closely mirrors the submission process to agents and will prepare you for the query gauntlet. Even if you don’t make the finals, you will receive critiques on both your query letter and opening 25 pages. Prize money and a congratulations note personally signed by the coordinator and chapter members didn’t hurt either.

Kiss of Death Daphne: I have not entered this contest. However, both an agent and editor are the final judges, and the winner is announced at Nationals. I’ve heard nothing but stellar things about this contest.

The TARA: I didn’t make the finals when I entered last year, but the submission process was the best I’ve experienced. You can enter as soon as it opens, using an electronic form. You can also update your entry until the deadline directly on the website without bothering a coordinator. Also, you will receive quality feedback.

FTHRWA Golden Gateway: you submit 50 pages plus a synopsis and finalists are named in two months. This is quite impressive, considering the amount of pages judges have to read, and you receive feedback on a larger sample of your work. In addition, this will prepare you for the Golden Heart.

The Golden Pen: I have not entered this contest, but I have heard fantastic things from other entrants about the quality of feedback. It also has a relatively quick turnaround time like the Golden Gateway.

The Golden Heart: I’m recommending this one for the prestige factor and the potential (not guaranteed) doors it can open. Judges have complained there is no training, you only receive a score with no insight from the judge, you have to mail in your submission, and wait four months to find out if you finaled, but it’s the Golden Heart.

BEST TIP: Don’t change your manuscript every time you receive contest results. Understand your characters and know your plot inside and out. Let feedback marinate for a week or two and only make changes that resonate with you. Yes, you want polished opening pages, but you don’t want to edit out your voice. And whatever you do, don’t forget to polish the rest of your manuscript.

Hope this helps some of you weed through which contests to choose and if any coordinators are reading this, please give final judges score sheets (even generic ones) and allow entrants to revise their pages before submission to an agent or editor.

On Sunday, June 19th, I will be hosting my friend Carol Ericson here. She’s a successful Romantic Suspense author for Harlequin Intrigue and has recently released her first self-published book, DEAD AIR. She’ll share her experience in the publishing industry and there’ll be some free giveaways. Hope you’ll stop by.