Monday, September 12, 2011

Interview with Harlequin American Author Megan Kelly

I'm so excited to have Harlequin American author Megan Kelly here today! Last week, I mentioned that Megan did something I'll never forget. I'm ready to tell all. Don't worry, Megan. Your character is safe here.

It was 2009, just before the Romance Writers of America's national meeting in D.C. I'd left a comment after one of Megan's blog posts about pre-meeting nerves. I'd never been to any writer's meeting, let alone Nationals. I was so new to the writing world that my comment was 'anonymous'. This was long before my blogging days ;). Well, Megan reached out. She commented back, inviting me to contact her through email and offering to meet up, have dinner, and introduce me to one of her unpublished chaptermates (another one of the sweetest people I've ever met, btw). Let me tell you, 'knowing' someone before heading to the meeting made all the difference. Megan was so generous about answering my questions at dinner, and (thinking back) as 'newbie' as I must have sounded, she made me feel like I belonged there. Thank you, Megan. I'll never forget your kindess and generosity.

And now I should hush up and let Megan get a word in here! I can't keep all her wisdom to myself, so read on. Megan's also doing a giveaway, so don't forget to leave a comment or question.

1. Congratulations on your latest release, Stand-in Mom! Ever since I got to know Ginger in The Fake Fiancee, I've been hoping she'd get her own happily ever after. I love her spunky, daring, yet caring, personality. Of course, it does land her in a...hmmm...somewhat awkward situation. A teacher coming face-to-face with her one-night-fling, who ends up being the single-parent of a student. Yikes! Love it ;). When coming up with proposals, does your editor ever hint at which secondary characters in previous books she'd like to see in the spotlight, or is it all up to you (and perhaps fan feedback)?

Thanks for having me, Rula. I'm pleased you liked Ginger enough to want her story. The short answer is "no." My editor doesn't suggest secondary characters or even book ideas. While writing The Fake Fiancee, I wanted my heroine to have someone to talk to, and she needed someone to watch her kids while she romanced the hero, lol. So Ginger appeared, and while typing, I found out she was trying to have a child, and considered babysitting practice. I thought "okay, cool" and dismissed it as being convenient for my heroine. Then poor Ginger had problems conceiving, and by the end of the book I was distraught over her! I had to write her an HEA. But I'd love suggestions from my editor. She's a super-nice person and incredibly savvy.

2. I recently read an article on libraries loaning ebooks. It talked a little about logistics, such as 'eloan' expiration etc... I remember when libraries switched over from card catalogues to computers. That had me confused and panicked enough at the time, LOL! E-readers are becoming 'a way of life' for many. Given your experience with libraries and bookstores, what do you think of ebook library loaning and how it affects writers and the publishing industry?

I don't understand why a book would "expire," and that's something I've been studying too. From a practical pov, paper books do go out of circulation due to wear, so they have a limited shelf life. An ebook would only go out of circulation if it wasn't readable any longer due to technical replacements, such as my library no longer buying audio books on cassette. It still circulates cassettes, but now purchases only mp3, audio as Playaways and CDs--and I noticed they are buying fewer CDs now. From an author's point of view, I'm thrilled with the idea that my backlist is available to people who are just finding me. My books from 2008 are out of print and only available through a few places, such as used book venues. The books on my library's shelf are looking worn (which tickles me as it means people are checking them out). But they won't be useable forever. As long as the e-versions are updated for the technology, I don't see the downside. The publishing houses are concerned about how many times an ebook has been circulated and they are trying to put a limit on loans so libraries would have to continue to buy a license to circulate them. That's my understanding of it. It comes down to money for the publishers. Which isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong. If they have money, they can buy mss. :)

3. You've presented many workshops over the past couple of years, including presentations at RWA Nationals. I know for a fact that you're a very generous person, and workshops are great ways to give back to the writing community. What prompted you to do your first writing workshop? Is it something you'd recommend to other published authors? Any antidotes to stage fright?

Oh gosh. Thanks for the compliment. But I'm not doing anything others aren't. As to... Presenting. Just the word makes me shudder. I'm not a natural speaker, but I am a natural teacher. If I know something, I'm eager to share it and help someone else. I don't understand *not* doing that. The problem is I can't do it one-on-one as effectively as I can do it by presenting a workshop. The RWA National workshops are recorded (shudder) so I can reach even more people than those in the workshop room. I'd much rather sit over dinner and answer questions or explain concepts, believe me.

Standing in front of a crowd always makes me nervous. I don't have an antidote to stage fright, but I do have a suggestion--find a friend. The first workshops I presented were with an author who is a teacher by profession. Which means she's comfortable speaking in front of a group, re-explaining things succinctly, and answering questions. We had books debut at the same time, then had nothing in print, but we had to keep our names "out there." A workshop accomplished that and placated my need to give back. I've been presenting solo this year and it's terrifying, but giving back to the community is just that important to me. I didn't get here alone. I am still absorbing the knowledge of others, so it just feels right to help anyone who stands still long enough to listen. lol As you can see, I don't give short answers. :)

4. Your first book, Marrying the Boss, came out in April of 2008. We'd love to hear about the time leading up to (and including) your Call.

You are sweet! I love telling my CALL story, but I can't tell you all about the time leading up to the sale--it was thirteen years! In short, I've wanted to write for Harlequin since I was in high school. I had to figure out what to do for money though, lol, and didn't write more seriously until after my kids were born. Nothing I'd show anyone, anyway. Only my mom and my husband knew I planned to do this, but I don't think either realized how much work it was or how persistent I would be. I went through a six year block where there *weren't* people in my head talking to me and I tried to write anyway. It was dreadful. When the characters came back, I realized how empty my head was without them. :D Marrying the Boss was originally two brothers fighting over the same woman. When I pitched it, the editor suggested they fight over the company instead. I played with the idea, dropped a brother, and this very strong woman appeared, not as a pawn but as a force in her own right. I didn't believe it would sell, so when Harlequin American Romance put out a call for submissions for their revamped line back in 2007, I submitted my first three chapters--all I had of the book. For the synopsis, I guessed what might happen at the end. :) A short month and a half later, I got a letter asking for the complete. I set myself a deadline and wrote like crazy, sent some of it to my critique partner, polished and out it went. In six weeks, I went from page 72 to The End to an envelope.

Five months later, on a Thursday afternoon, I emerged from my office to see the light blinking on my answering machine. I had missed THE CALL! I don't have a phone in my office so it won't interrupt my writing, and the washing machine in the next room must have drowned out the ringing of our home phone. When I called back, I got the senior editor's machine. Heart racing, I called my husband on my cell phone while I stared at my landline, willing it to ring. He was very excited and as supportive as he always is. The phone rang. Toronto was experiencing a blizzard and the Harlequin offices were closing, but Kathleen called me, just in case they were closed on Friday also. She didn't want me to wait all weekend, wondering. To this day, I have nightmares imagining that weekend. Having spent 13 years preparing for this CALL (aka, being rejected), I knew what to expect from an offer, and I wrote down everything she said. That night, we had my mother-in-law over for dinner for her birthday, so we already had cake in the house. lol It was an incredible moment.

5. Apart from not quitting, what's the one thing you did as a writer that you feel played a critical role in helping you achieve your goal of publication?

Not quitting is the hardest and most critical step, of course. Second to continuing to write, I also continued to learn. I asked for feedback from my CP, my crit group, and contests. Then, even more importantly, I listened and used that feedback. I see so many writers enter contests but then ignore the advice given. But I figured out what I was doing wrong, where I could improve, and I tried to put those lessons in my work. I also read other writers, in romance, mainstream, and mystery/suspense/thrillers. I don't break down a book as to what is being done right, but good writing seeps in. I can also justify reading as research this way, and I do love to read! And I attend workshops, always staying open to new ideas, old ideas I've rejected before, or old ideas I haven't been successful with, such as plotting. Churchill said "Never ever ever give up." I'd add, Never stop learning.

6. You've done quite a few book signings. With four books under your belt, what would you say is your favorite marketing tool? Which one, in your opinion, has the best pay off?

Eeks. Marketing. It's hard to figure what works. The average person has to see an image/hear a catchphrase or name, etc, SEVEN times before it sticks. I need to spend my time writing. So I'm currently studying how to best manage my online time and where to spend it. With series romance, I have a time pressure factor as well. My book is only on the shelf for four weeks (less in some stores). For a few months, the print version can be special ordered, then it's out of print. Forever. All my books are available in e-format, which is wonderful, but the *push* comes the first weeks of that one release month.

As for social media, I'm on FaceBook, but I know I could use it more effectively. Since only my "friends" see my posts, I'm preaching to the choir. On FB, I should be going to pages and commenting so their friends see my posts, but that's incredibly time consuming. Same with Twitter, although that's a more fluid environment. I was on there this morning, clicked on a new person's page, and while reading her three line bio, 19 more tweets were posted. 19 in less than a minute. My feeling there is time is so limited for my tweet to be on someone's home page that it's not effective. The other person has to be on Twitter *at that moment* to see me. I received an email that someone saw me active and said hi, but when I went back to Twitter, I couldn't find a message from her. How crazy is that?

I gave away copies of Stand-In Mom and The Marriage Solution on GoodReads this year before their release dates. That alerted *readers* to each book's release date. I want to reach people interested in series romance, and many GoodReads members added my books to their To Be Read lists. I will continue this. I also post book reviews, but that's because I like to read and share reviews more than a publicity thing.

When I do workshops at conferences, I try to put something in the giveaway room. I'm always looking for ideas. This year, I not only had my stars and strips folding fans, but I made Romance Trading Cards. They're the "new hot thing." They're fun and different.

7. I'm a visual person, and book covers really draw my eye. I love the cover of The Marriage Solution. Those two kids are adorable! I'm also dying to see the rest of Tara's wedding dress. The cover of Stand-in Mom won me over too. I can't turn away from a cover with a cuddly dog or pup. Any advice or pointers on helping publishers get your covers right?

Are you trying to get me in trouble? lol Okay, I have to admit, I love those two covers. I've been very lucky. This is a two prong question. The first answer is the cover may never be exact (Horace the dog in Stand-In Mom is black, not brown and white, for example, and in The Marriage Solution, Tara gets married in a pink dress). But the important thing is the *feel* of the cover, not the details. Yes, I'd love if the cover exactly matched the picture in my head, but that's unlikely to happen. The cover is about selling the book, so I leave it to the Art Department. Now, the second part of the answer is about the cover design process. At Harlequin, authors fill out an art fact sheet describing two scenes for the cover, including color, styles, props, etc. I asked for a dog on the cover, a black Newfie puppy. I suggested the scene at the pet store where they adopt Horace and described their clothes in the scene, hair color, etc. The Art Department turned that suggestion into an incredibly beautiful cover. Do Ginger and Scott and his daughter at any time in the book sit on the porch with Horace? No. Do I care? No. Because the sense of family and the attraction between the couple shine through. The models are gorgeous, the daughter adorable, the dog priceless. I love, love, love this cover. So my advice would be to give the Art Dept a good scene idea with plenty of details, and then don't sweat it when it comes out a little differently.

8. Since getting published, what's the biggest lesson or 'insider info' you've learned that you wish someone had warned told you about?

Wow. In my head, I thought I knew a lot of this stuff due to those 13 years of "preparation." I listened to/read other writers, so I knew about the publicity pressure, the sales pressure, the sophomore slump (difficulty writing/selling the second book), the cost of advertising, how unpublished friends can turn on you, how established writers may still not accept you, etc. It made being published sound like a horrible place. :) So while I thought I was prepared, the reality of it was staggering. I pushed myself to sell my second book before my first came out. I sent the proposal too soon, according to my editor, but she bought it, based on my first book. Sophomore slump (my biggest fear)--averted. My non-writing and unpublished friends are angels, so I didn't experience any of those problems. I figure established or not, other writers accept me or don't, based on me, not my selling a book, so I didn't worry about that one.

The pressure is the one I battle. I don't promote the way I should. I don't feel comfortable suggesting people buy my book, even though I believe in each one and I totally love Stand-In Mom and am so proud of it. I don't write fast--until the end, when I write like a demon--but I don't sell a new book often enough to grow a readership. I don't want to worry about my numbers as compared to other authors I'm relased with that month. I prefer to know if people are *liking* it after they buy it. I'm gratified that Stand-In Mom has been getting such lovely reviews because that means those people enjoyed my efforts.

My advice is listen and learn. Be prepared for all these things and more. But don't let any of it discourage you. Once you understand this is all a part of being an author, it's more manageable if it happens.

And learn to revise! Learn how to take suggestions and utilize them. Learn where to stand firm on your vision of your work.

9. And now for a little insider info on you :)... What's your favorite deadline crunch-time snack? Any other writing vices or odd habits?

On deadline, I live off M&Ms. And Coke Zero, preferably Vanilla if I can find it. Anything chocolate is welcome, but M&Ms keep my hands clean. :) I write at night, mostly because I'm a night owl and that's when I'm more creative, but also because I started writing seriously (to sell) when my kids were toddlers. I'd put them and my husband to bed and write until the wee hours. On deadline, I've been known to write until the kids go to school, then I drop on the bed for the six hours they're gone. Of course, on work days, I couldn't do that, but weekends and non-work days, yes. Do NOT follow this example. Be a sensible person!

10. Log cabin or beach house (both with electricity, LOL)? Coffee, tea or soda? Paper or ebook?

Log cabin, but definitely with electricity and a/c. I love the mountains (in case you're birthday shopping, lol). Coke Vanilla Zero is a staple, as I mentioned. I also drink Coke Zero or plain Diet Coke in a pinch. And anything chocolate--have I mentioned that yet? lol--but I really prefer milk chocolate. I love to curl up with a book, and paper is my first choice, mostly because it's what I'm used to. It takes a little more planning to read an ebook (is my reader/laptop charged? did I download it?) whereas I can just pick up the book laying in plain sight. However, I have read several books in e-format and have more on my laptop to read. I've played with a few different devices but haven't committed to buying one yet. It's only a matter of time and money until I do. There are too many e-books out there not in print that I want to read.

Thanks so much for being here, Megan! It was great to see you again at Nationals this year. Your smile and kindness are contagious :)

GIVEAWAY: Megan is giving away a copy of one of her books AND Romance Trading Cards! Just leave a comment or question and your name will be entered in the drawing. The winner will be posted here this Thursday, September 15th. Don't miss out! Romance Trading Cards are the latest, greatest fan fun...keepsake pictures and data on your favorite characters. I have one of the adorable Newfoundland puppy, Horace, in Stand-In Mom ;)

BLURB: Stand-In Mom, September 2011

He's Got A Lot To Learn

Scott Matthews had no idea Ginger Winchester was a teacher when they first met—he didn't even know her last name. That didn't stop them from sharing a night of passion. Scott hoped he'd see Ginger again—just not in his daughter's new classroom! Yet, somewhere under that frumpy sweater and chalk dust is the sultry redhead who's been haunting his dreams.

Smart, sensitive and nurturing, Ginger is everything Scott wants. But when Ginger discovers she resembles his first wife, she fears stepping in as a replacement mom. She wants a family, but not this way. She's happy to offer tips on handling rambunctious kids, and even helps the Matthews family adopt a big, lovable puppy. But when it comes to handing over her heart, Scott must prove to her that she's more than just a stand–in—she's the one.
Barnes and Noble


  1. Thanks for such a great interview Rula.

    And thank you Megan for sharing your story. It sounds incredible. And I hear you on the vanilla Coke. I also like your advice about critiques, it's so important to listen and learn. And although sometimes it may seem like they're ripping you to shreds, they're just helping you along. So many new writers think crits are just word bashing when it's really not the case.

    And I really love the blurb for Stand-In Mom. Sounds like so much fun. I love fiesty redheads. Best of luck with it.

  2. Hi Rula & Megan! What a fabulous interview. I'm a night owl too. I can sit in front of my computer (and do) all day but give me a couple of hours in the quiet of night and I can get twice as much down as I've accomplished all day! I enjoyed learning about your journey Megan and wish you much continued success!

  3. Anne,thanks for stopping by. I moderate our chapter's critique group and understand how hard the process is. The hard part is getting people to comment on the things the author is doing well. That helps her continue to do those things, as well as being a balm to the ego. I write humor (hopefully) so the little smiley faces or hearing people laugh is vital to my work. Did that joke translate to paper? I always wonder. Writers are fragile folks, lol. We need to learn critique benefits our writings.

  4. Hey, Kaily. *waving* Good to see you here. I'm so glad Rula introduced us in NYC. (I've been reading you and loving your writing.) I need the quiet of the night for writing, plus being more creative, as you mentioned of yourself. The day hours are good for editing, as I'm more detail oriented and focused during the day. But I have to write all hours.

  5. Hi Anne, Kaily and Megan! I have to admit that I haven't tried Vanilla Coke. I tried cherry and didn't like it. I don't drink much soda, but when I get the urge I grab either Coke Zero or Diet Dr. Pepper. I'll have to give vanilla a shot!

  6. I'm so glad Megan is here today! Wanted to say I absolutely ADORED "The Marriage Solution"!!
    Great interview!

  7. Very interesting interview. Although I'm a mother myself I'm forever amazed by writers who raise kids and manage to get their writing done. Megan is certainly a testament to the success that comes with being persistent.

    Well done, ladies. I enjoyed reading.

  8. Why thank you, Jennifer! That is beyond sweet. I hope you like Stand-In Mom. I waited a long time to get Ginger's story right, and I have to admit, I'm really proud of it.

  9. Hey, JL, nice to meet you. The key to writing with children is make sure they're safe and busy or asleep. Asleep works best for me, but my kids always had access to my office. I put up a baby gate so they could see me AND see that I wasn't doing anything fun. I also gave them lots of my attention and only tried to write for short spurts in the daytime. Train them *not* to need you. It's good for their overall self-esteem. ;)

  10. Thanks for the great interview. I think it's a great idea for authors to conduct workshops at conference. Perfect for promotional purposes. There were so many great ones at the RWA nationals this year. They made the experience worth it. Now I can't wait for next year's.

  11. Hi, Stina. There are so many good workshops, even at smaller conferences, it's hard to choose between them. When I first started attending, I tried to pick the most relevant, sent friends with my tape recorder (now a huge no-no) to others, borrowed notes and bought the individual recordings. Now I've learned to save up for the entire conference audio at RWA National. That way if my mind wanders, I'm still covered. And, yes, my mind wanders. :)
    Thanks for stopping by.

  12. fantastic interview! I loved learning so much about Megan and her books! Thanks for sharing so much Megan and having her on here Rula. Glad to have discovered your blog!

  13. Good morning everyone :)

    Jennifer - I loved it too!

    J.L.- I agree. It's tough writing as a mom. I try to do it on my time (as if mom's have such a thing, LOL), but when I have to BICHOK, my kids will stand at my glass office doors with their noses smooshed on the panes. Windex is my friend.

    Stina - RWA workshops rock. If I think a lecturer is excellent, I'll usually get their book if I don't already have it. Of course, if the lecture is boring...

    Creepy Query Girl - Hi! Thanks for stopping in and for following! I'll check out your blog soon. Love your user name, btw :). Very fun!

  14. This is a wonderful interview. I totally agree about never stop learning.

  15. Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry to be late; I have a signing tonight, and I also am in the process of getting a book cover done for my holiday self-pub book, Santa Dear. Very exciting!
    Hi, Creepy Query Girl. I'm with Rula, love your user name. Glad you enjoyed the interview.
    Carol, if I had stopped, I'd never have forgiven myself. The key thing is: don't stand in the way of your dream. My dream was to write for Harlequin. Giving up is SO much easier, but I'm not sure it's *less* heartbreaking than repeated rejections. I am the poster child for Perseverance. Thanks for stopping by.

  16. Thank you Rula and Meagan. I just love these informative interviews. I enjoy seeing things from a writer's point of view.

  17. Hi Kaelee! I'm so glad you enjoy the interviews :). Thanks for visiting!

  18. Hi, Kaelee. Rula asks good questions, so I'm giving her the credit here. :)

  19. You're too sweet, Megan, but all that wonderful wisdom and information is in the answers ;). Again, thanks so much for hanging out here!

  20. This is a nice place to hang, Rula. :)