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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From Writing Rejection to Acceptance: Author Interview with Becky Avella

What made you decide to write a Christian themed suspense novel?
I grew up reading Christian fiction of all kinds and also loved mystery and suspense books like Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Elizabeth Gail. But as an adult I somehow missed the Christian Romantic Suspense genre. My good friend, Lisa Phillips, writes for Love Inspired Suspense and she is the one who introduced me to this genre as both a reader and a writer.

How long did it take you to write the book?
It took about 18 months total from start to finish including all of the rewriting and revising.

How many rewrites did you do on it?
After submitting it the first time, I had to do a complete rewrite. The setting changed and about two-thirds of the original story, but I’m so much happier with this version.

Who helped you with the editing?
I’m blessed to be in an extremely supportive writers group. They encouraged me to do the rewrite in the first place, and then they were instrumental in all of the revisions as well. I also have my good friend, Jennifer, who is a natural editor. I’m grateful she’s willing to read my work because she has an intuitive sense of what works and what doesn’t in story and catches my grammar errors. I probably should have had her double check this post for me.

Are you still active with any writing groups?
Yes, and I am so thankful for them! I belong to a larger local group of Christian writers and then also to a smaller group that has become so much more than just critique partners. When Lisa invited me to join them for a critique meeting, I didn’t realize what a gift she was offering me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without these women. We pray for each other, brainstorm together, compete for word count, and just support each other in general. They make the writing life more joyful.

Who encouraged you along the way?
I had so much encouragement along the way. I wouldn’t be published if it weren’t for my family, my friend Jennifer, and my writing buddies. (See above)

Did you ever want to give up on writing the book and getting it published?
Yes. After the original manuscript was rejected, I was pretty discouraged and decided it was a failed experiment. Lisa and our other author friend, Heather Woodhaven, helped me to see that the letter wasn’t a rejection but really an invitation to fix what was wrong and try again. I’m so glad that I listened to them.

How many publishers or agents did you pitch before getting your manuscript published?
I wrote this story specifically for Love Inspired Suspense so I only pitched it to them.

What was that process like? How did you get involved with Harlequin?
I’m ashamed to admit that I had an outdated view of Harlequin. I didn’t know they sold clean romance or Christian fiction. Again it was Lisa Phillips who introduced me to Love Inspired books and encouraged me to enter the pitch contest they were hosting called “Happily Editor After.” It was through this contest that I eventually sold Targeted.    

Walk us through how "Happily Editor After" contest worked.
The "Happily Editor After" contest was in 2013, and it was set up differently than the 2014 "Killer Voices" and this year's "Blurb to Book" contest. HEA was designed to mimic a speed dating event. We all had appointments on the Harlequin community boards. Once you were called into the special chat room, you had a set amount of time to post your 100 word pitch and wow the editor. She then either passed on your manuscript or requested a partial or full manuscript.

How did it work specifically for you?
I "won" the contest in the sense that Emily asked to read my full manuscript, but it was just a one day event and there were no contracts being offered at that point. I sent that submission packet in May of 2013 and heard back with a rejection in August.

The rejection letter said that she liked my voice but there were problems that wouldn't work for the Love Inspired Suspense line. I wasn't familiar enough with the genre and it showed. Since she had taken the time to be so specific about what didn't work, my friends helped me see that I needed to address those problems and try again. I'm so thankful that I did. 

The book blurb for your novel on Goodreads is 101 words – approximately the word count for first stage of Harlequin’s “From Blurb to Book Contest.” Was this part of a previous contest for that publisher? Did you write it? Or was it the publisher? The publisher is in charge of writing the book blurb. I wrote a similar one for the pitch contest (Happily Editor After) and also for the query letter that I sent to the editor. Learning how to boil your book down into 100 exciting words is a real challenge. It was interesting to me to find out how little control the author has over things like cover design and back cover copy. Thankfully, Love Inspired Suspense has great art and marketing departments. I’m really happy with how it all turned out for Targeted.  

What are some of the more difficult aspects of writing a romantic suspense novel?
This genre calls for tight manuscripts. You only have 60,000 words max to get in all of the character development, romance, suspense, and spiritual transformation that you want to accomplish. There isn’t any room for meandering. I had to learn to write as if the story was a line of dominoes, each event leading directly into the other without letting up on the suspenseful pulse. It’s a lot of fun to do!

Have other novels been started and stopped along the way?
I have begun so many novels! Entering the contest was the push I needed to finish a story. 

How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
I need to have a good feel for who the characters are first. I love discovering who they are and what they look like, how they think, etc. Making up people is easier for me than making up plot. I’ve been more of a discovery writer than a plotter. I’m hoping as I grow in experience, the outlining process will become more natural for me. Having a map to follow would make it so much easier.

Prior to writing this novel you wrote about dealing with your own personal miscarriages. What made you decide to open up that very personal and traumatic side of your life to others?

I was five months pregnant with our third child when I went to a women’s retreat. The speaker sent us out for some quiet time and asked us to talk to God about our dreams and to make sure they lined up with His will for us. I remember writing down a huge list of more than twenty things I’ve since forgotten but there were three written next to each other that I’ll be able to remember forever:

1. I want a son (we had two girls and I knew I’d be having an ultrasound that week)
2. I want to have an effective ministry
3. I want to write a book. 

Three days later, I went in for my ultrasound and found out that our baby boy’s heart had stopped beating. I couldn’t believe that that was what God had done with my dreams. 

After that I lost three more babies and had two failed adoption attempts. It was the most painful period of my life. In the middle of it all, I started writing. I was given five copies of the same book from people wanting to comfort me. It was a good book, but it was written by a man who could never truly understand what it’s like to lose a baby. After the second miscarriage, I felt like I was supposed to write a book. My first response was, “That’s not the type of book I meant! I wanted to write a novel!” 

What have you learned from writing that book?
God has used it in so many amazing ways to help other people and to help me heal. I’m so thankful that He has allowed purpose to come from all of that hurt. I’m glad I pushed through and wrote it.

Today, I’m so thankful to be able to say I have a little boy, I’ve been blessed to minister to hurting women through And Then You Were Gone, and my first novel was published this month. When we give God our dreams sometimes they have to die like a seed in the ground so He can grow something better than we could ever come up with on our own. 

That book was self-published through Pleasant Word, a division of Winepress. What was your experience like with them?
I started writing that book after my second miscarriage. I’m so thankful that I did and that I didn’t know more loss was coming. I was able to write through the pain and that gave more honesty to the book. After you have healed you are given a certain amount of amnesia, which is a good thing! Writing during it all helped me to capture emotions I don’t even remember feeling.

The publishing process went well but was a lot more expensive than it would need to be now. Independent publishing is so much more of a viable option these days and a lot cheaper. My post-publication experience was not a positive one, and I would caution anyone thinking about publishing in this way to do a lot of research beforehand. The company I worked with went out of business without warning. Thankfully, I’ve been able to find another way to keep my book available as an indie author.

What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
I didn’t think I was talented enough to be a “real” writer. When I read the book Plot and Structure by James Scoot Bell, it was the first time I heard someone say that writing was a skill that could be learned. I began devouring every writing blog, book, and podcast I could find. I don’t think I’ll ever believe I’ve arrived as an author, but I love knowing that I can keep growing, and that this is just the beginning.

I also wasn’t prepared for how shy I would feel about having my book out in the real world. It’s an exciting but also terrifying thing. I didn’t sleep well for weeks before my release. I’ve really had to learn to trust God and to find my value in Him not in the sales numbers or in the positive or negative reviews. This career requires a lot of humility. I’ve had to remember that pleasing God comes first. 

What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
I’m so new to all of this, I’m not sure what is working or not working. I am actively involved on social media like Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads, and I blog with other Christian Romantic Suspense authors on I love the camaraderie we share and the way we support each other. I’m also visiting a lot of blogs like this one to share about my writing journey and about the book. Marketing and publicity is definitely an area where I still have a lot to learn.

Is this a stand-alone book or are you planning a sequel or prequel for any of your characters?
Targeted is a stand-alone novel and so is my current work in progress. I’d love to write a series soon. I think readers really enjoy returning to familiar settings and characters. I think it would be a blast to write one. 

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
It wasn’t necessarily advice, just more of an

impression. I thought great writers were born. I wish I’d figured out earlier that writing is something that can be learned and that many writers continue to grow and improve throughout their lives.

Keep writing and don’t let discouragement win. Perseverance is so important in this business. And seek out community. I would not be a published writer if it weren’t for the support of my writing friends.

Thank you so much for inviting me to share my story, Chris! Happy writing everyone!

If you'd like to learn more about Becky's books and other works in the process, here's some options. 

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