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To continue discussing the rejection of my novel Coming Attractions (What? You’ve got an appointment with a supermodel?) It might be a good idea if you knew what the book is about:

In the darkness of an Indiana drive-in movie theater, Maddie McKinley returns from the concession stand, climbs into the wrong van, and gets tackled by the father of the kids inside. Logan Chandler is embarrassed about roughing her up, but also intrigued by the beautiful young woman from Boston, who arrived alone at the movies wearing an expensive dress. Unfortunately, he’s the local businessman leading a battle to save the drive-in from developers--and she’s the attorney sent to make sure it’s torn down.

See, there’s your back cover blurb. Coming Attractions was actually outlined, and some of the first draft written, at the Auburn-Garrett drive-in theater. My kids and I liked to get there early to grab the best spot, and we brainstormed this book while people-watching and hitting the popcorn.

Over the years I’ve made many changes. The biggest came at the request of a major romance publisher, when the editor agreed to take another look if I made revisions. I did so, the biggest being splitting up a climactic scene and moving part of it closer to the end of the book. In the end they still rejected it, saying Maddie wasn’t a relatable heroine: They thought she came across as “very snobby and rather unlikable”. Also, the word hoity-toity was used.

In the opening scene Maddie has just finished an exhausting flight from Boston. She feels she’s been exiled to Indiana, after a very bad public breakup with her boyfriend—a partner in her firm. She’s in career purgatory, and she’s doing grunt work, and it’s the low point of her adult life. So yeah, she’s not sunshine and puppy dogs.

But it doesn’t matter what an author intends; you can’t go explaining your intentions to each individual reader. (Well, you can, but you’ve got another book to write, fella.) I thought I’d made her more sympathetic in edits, but apparently not enough.

I won’t go into detail on the second editor’s rejection letter. Much of what the editor had to say made sense, and will be addressed before I move on. But there was one thing.

Over the years the rules for romance novels have loosened quite a bit, and there’s not such a cookie cutter approach to what is and isn’t allowed. But there’s one big trope the industry as a whole sticks to: When the couple acknowledges their love for each other, the story is over.

In other words, the primary story in a romance is the romance. Not the mystery, not the adventure, not the legal thriller. No matter how many balls you have in the air, once the path to the couple’s happily ever after looks clear, the juggling is over.

No matter how much Maddie and Logan love each other, there are huge issues in the way of their happiness. For complicated reasons, it’s way more than just business for either of them. The story’s climax is a sometimes comic court battle, ending with a scene I love so much deleting it would be the very definition of the cliché “kill your darlings”.

The thing is, the only way I could have them refuse to acknowledge their feelings for each other would be if Logan blamed her personally, but that’s not who Logan is. Meanwhile, Maddie would have to keep hiding things from Logan, and she prides herself on her honesty.

So the characters talk it out. There’s still a whole battle in which they’re on opposite sides, but that doesn’t keep them from acknowledging their feelings.

I reject that a romance story has to stop the moment they say “I love you, we’ll figure it out”. I think it can go on through the figuring it out stage, and still be interesting, and romantic.

Does that make sense? ‘Cause this is getting way long.

There’s a place for stories that don’t fit the conventional outline, so I’m considering self-publishing Coming Attractions. I’d rather get a contract with one of the big publishers, to get into bookstores and not do all the work myself. (By myself, I mean my wife does a lot of the work.) I could go to small publishers too, although that doesn’t guarantee the bookstore part. But I believe in this story.

I know some people are firmly on one side or another of the self vs. traditional publishing debate, but maybe this is one of those books self-publishing was originally made for. What do you think?


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 4th, 2016 03:18 am (UTC)
Can I ask you this? Is romance really the right market for this? Could it work in another genre if you wanted to continue trying the traditional publishing route?

I definitely reject the idea that once they say Ilove you, the story is over. It surely does not work that way in the gay romance genre. Okay in some stories but yeah a lot of them go on beyond that (maybe because of the additional hurdles a gay couple has to jump)

I'm less critical of self pubbing than I once way but still nearly every self pub I've read (as I win a fair amount of them on Goodreads) have been less than good. That's not necessarily the rule but I AM leery of it as a reader if I'm tossing my money around.

From the publishing side, I have NO clue how anyone sells anything self pubbed. I can't even sell my stuff with a damn publishing house behind it. That's the part that keeps me from trying my hand at it
Sep. 4th, 2016 05:32 am (UTC)
Hm ... no, I don't think so. I wrote the story as a romance, and I really don't think it fits into any other genre. In order to fit it somewhere else, I think I'd have to make even more changes than the editors asked for.

The problem with self-publishing is exactly what you're saying--so many self pubbed works stink that it taints all of them. I'm confident enough to know my finished products are better than most self-published works ... but the question is, will readers give you a chance even if they can find you?

And again, you're not alone about having trouble figuring how to sell your stuff! I've yet to figure out how to get to that next level: From selling to people I know (or people from my area), to more widespread sales.
Sep. 4th, 2016 05:57 pm (UTC)
Fair enough. Thought I'd throw it out there (I know two separate would-be romance writers who upon further reflection have probably written fantasy with romance subplots)

Same here. I know mine will at least be edited etc and hopefully not suck donkey but some have been SO bad. Basically I look at goodread giveaways. Some I win. Some I don't and then I go looking (and it needs to have more than 5 reviews before I'll buy, points to last night's post)

I post tons of marketing links. I do 90% of what they say to do and yeah, still can't sell stuff
Sep. 5th, 2016 06:41 am (UTC)
They should go with the fantasy label -- it seems to me fantasy is getting more and more popular, and romance as a main genre is fading a little. But who knows what the next big thing will be?
Sep. 5th, 2016 05:30 pm (UTC)
That was my advice and I think they've agreed.

Yeah not sure what the next big thing will be, who knows maybe it'll be something we write (not that I'm holding my breath on my ability to do that)
Sep. 5th, 2016 11:57 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm published in, what-- five genres now? Surely I'll hit the right one sooner or later!
Sep. 6th, 2016 01:35 am (UTC)
snort. here's hoping. Hey why not in all five of them?
Sep. 6th, 2016 02:06 am (UTC)
Why not?
Sep. 4th, 2016 03:22 pm (UTC)
Possibly unpopular opinion time: I think the rule where "acknowledging feelings = ending" is so freaking dumb, I cannot even with it. Sometimes, yes, that's where a story ends, but not always! Sometimes you have feelings, but there are fifteen other things to deal with before the story is over because love isn't always enough.

Have you thought about not marketing it as a romance, but rather a chick-lit (I hate that term, but it's sometimes accurate) novel? Because I think there's a little more room for a so-called "unlikeable" heroine who's at a low point in her legal career and is contemplating big changes when we're talking that market.
Sep. 5th, 2016 06:46 am (UTC)
I don't think it would fit the chick-lit category ... but to know for sure I'd have to read a lot more of them, and I'd reading in too many genres to keep up as it is! Also--and here's where I really disagree with the first editor--I don't think Maddie's unlikable at all. Once she recovers from her exhausting and disappointing day she shows her true self pretty quickly, and (to the editor's comments) I'd made some changes in the first chapter to reflect her true personality.

Having said that, I still get defensive about the way some people react to Chance Hamlin in "Storm Chaser", so maybe I just suck at revealing a character's true personality in chapter one! The guy just almost got killed by a tornado, people--cut him some slack. One of these days I'll start a story out with a character who's not undergoing incredible stress.
Sep. 7th, 2016 11:26 pm (UTC)
Huh, I've read lots of romance books where there's romance and other plot. Nora Roberts writes some where she's been mixing the thriller/mystery and romance genres and so the characters usually pair up part way though and then the mystery has to get resolved. Works for me.
Sep. 8th, 2016 01:30 am (UTC)
Maybe I'm just hitting the wrong publishers -- or the wrong lines within a publisher. I'm with you--I was surprised that it seemed like such a big deal to them.
Sep. 13th, 2016 10:26 pm (UTC)
I guess each publishing house has their specialty within a genre. I'm all for a bit of pursuit in a romance novel. But I'm quite happy to see a happy couple getting to do something together, both things exist quite well together.
Sep. 14th, 2016 04:31 am (UTC)
Well, one way or another, you'll get your chance to see how this couple handles their challenges!
Sep. 18th, 2016 12:23 pm (UTC)
Can't wait!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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