Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shirlee's Cheap Thrills

Okay, I admit it. Every once in a while, I log onto or and type in my name just so I can look at the list of books. It sounds stupid, I know. After all, it's not like I don't have most of the books here at the house. Still, there's something about seeing them on the computer that motivates me. There I am, Shirlee McCoy the AUTHOR. Who'd have thought it? Not any of my elementary school teachers. Not my middle school language teacher. A couple of high school teachers encouraged my writing, and maybe a college professor or two might have had an inkling that I'd be published one day.

What's my point? Just that we can never know what the future will bring, or how God will use our gifts. We can plan and set our goals. We should plan and set goals. In the end, though, it is God's timing that moves us forward into whatever success we might find. God and a whole lot of hard work and persistence.

When I was a kid, making up stories in my head and day dreaming my life away, I never thought I'd write books one day. The first time I remember actually thinking about writing a novel was when I was a young teen and my sister said she planned to write a book. Suddenly all that daydreaming didn't seem so pointless. I thought, "I can write a book." I actually began my first novel that day. Of course, writing a book is a lot more difficult than actually conceiving the idea. It took me another couple of decades to complete a novel. My sister is still trying to finish one.

I suppose I could still be where she is, not quite committed to the dream. Somehow, though, I was able to go from dream to effort and from effort to success. Maybe I was too much of a daydreamer to worry about how much money I would or wouldn't make or whether or not the sacrafice of time and sleep would be worth the eventual results.

You see, to be an author, we must suspend disbelief, stop worrying about reality, and sink wholeheartedly into the dream. Rejections, writer's block (and, yes, there is such a think), harsh critisisms, they must be in the periphery, shaping and molding us without causing us to colapse. We must be tough and soft at the same time. Committed without being overly attached to our ideas. Sure of ourselves without being arrogant. We must, in essence, be people of character. In an industry like the one we strive to be part of, living with Christ as our center provides the grounding that keeps our reputations pure. And whether we want to believe it or not, reputation means a lot.

Where is your focus today? Who is your model as you interact with the world and deal with the harsh reality that comes from pursuing your dreams?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One of Those Days

This is the second post I've done. Let's see if either will show up before the night is over!

Recently, several people asked if there were more Lakeview books in my series. For those interested, here's the list in the order that the books take place -


The next three stories are also set in Lakeview, but are part of trilogy about the Sinclair brothers (who had appearances in WHEN SILENCE FALLS). I don't know how SH will market the books, so it remains to be seen whether the books are part of Lakeview or part of something else.

In case you're wondering how seven and three add up to twelve books, I also wrote books for two different continuities. That makes twelve books. Yep, I can still add most of the time.

Which reminds me, my daughter announced yesterday that she couldn't remember the name of one of the girls on her gymnastic team. I told her not to worry about it, because I forget things all the time. She replied. "I guess we're both just getting old." She's six.

Go Ahead and Eat Dessert First

I don't know why I picked that title. Maybe because I really wanted to eat dessert instead of dinner, but needed to set a good example for my kids.

Here's what I'm thinking about today - trials.

I have two dear friends that are going through very difficult times. Today they both called me. Neither was complaining, whining, or filled with self pity, but it was obvious both were struggling. I struggled, too. To say the right thing, to word my responses in ways that weren't coddling or dismissive, because I understood the truth of our conversations. My friends didn't want or need my advice, they just wanted my ear. And really that was all I could give them. After a while the conversation died down, we hung up, and I was left wondering if I'd helped at all.

It's tough when things are going just the way you planned and suddenly the floor drops out from under you. I think human nature demands we look for answers. Sin. Poor choices. Lack of faith. Most of the time, though, the truth is simply that trials are part of life. No matter how loved by God, no matter how close to Him, there will be times when we will walk into the brick wall of uncertainty and have a truckload of doubt crash down on our heads. Look at Job, so loved by God and yet he lost everything. One day life was good, the next he was sitting in ashes and covered with sores. In the end, God lifted Job up again, pulling him out of grief and pain and back into life renewed. In the darkest moments, this is what we need to remember. God may not intervene, but He is there, ready to create joy from sorrow and blessings from loss.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Title

After all the wonderful suggestions I received and passed on to my editor the title for book ten was taken to committee where a unanimous decision was reached. The title for my chocoholic's story is now - THE GUARDIAN'S MISSION.

It's growing on me. :0)

Planning a Writing Career

Much as I'd like to say otherwise, writing is a job. Sure, it's also an expression of self, an artistic endeavor, and a gift, but when the day is done, you're exhausted and you've got a thousand words to write it's just another job that must be done.

Not to pop any balloons or anything like that. The fact is, I love my job. I can't imagine doing anything else. As a matter of fact, I'm trained as a teacher, but I don't plan to ever go back to the classroom (my dining room table and my four kids aside) unless it's to teach writing at a community college or university. What's the sense? My dream is to write. It's what I'm doing.

Here's the thing, though. Writing is a tough job. And I'm not saying that because it opens us up to criticism and rejection. When I was a teacher, I went to school every day. I saw my boss. I saw my fellow teachers. I saw the results of my teaching efforts in test scores and kids' success. Every two weeks I got a paycheck that proved that I was indeed doing a job. As a writer, I don't talk to my editor every day. Mostly I don't talk to her even once a month. I know what I need to do and I focus my energy on doing it so that she can do her job (which involves a whole lot more than my manuscripts). That means that eighty-five percent of the time, I'm working on my own without any input from my 'boss'. She buys the book and sends me off to write it trusting that I can produce what I've said I can. I don't have a crowd of people standing around me cheering me on, I don't have a boss telling me every day what to do and how to do it, I don't have colleagues that I can meet at the water cooler to discuss plans with. And I don't get paychecks every two weeks. The money comes in as my books sell and my royalty statements arrive, or as I receive further advances for work done. That may mean months or weeks between paychecks.

Why am I saying all this? Because the road to publication always begins with a dream. Acheiving that dream, though, is only the beginning of a very fun, fulfilling, and tough career. Careers require plans. If you haven't already jotted down your goals as an author, you should take the time to do it. Do you want to write one book a year? Two? Will you spend twenty hours a week writing or forty? Do you have a dream publisher, or just a vague idea of where your manuscript is headed?

I sold STILL WATERS four years ago in December. Up until that point, my plan was to sell a book in five years. Once I acheived my goal I immediately made a new one. I wanted to sell book ten within five years. I've worked hard to acheive that goal, knowing that name recognition is a good part of being successful in this industry and that the only way to have my name recognized by LI readers was to get more books out a year. I may be a busy homeschool mom, but I have spent time thinking through my writing career. I know what I want to acheive today, this month, and this year. I also know what my long term goals are.

Whether you're just starting out, or have been doing this for a while, I recommend that you take the time to think about your future as a writer. Dreams are nice, but it's concrete goals that set the stage for success.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Things That Bug Me

I've had a really bad headache for the past three days. It's got to be weather related. Anyhow, I'm trying to keep on top of it so I don't get a migraine. Shudder. The problem is that life goes on no matter how sick I feel, so I've just got to keep going and pray eventually this nasty pollen/heat/humidity will go away and take my headache with it!

In honor of my foul mood and pounding head, I'm making a list of things that bug me. Yes, I do get bugged by things. Generally, I'm a laid back, easy going person. My husband will agree with that. Really. I like people. Most of the time I look for the best in them. Sometimes, though, the best is hard to see. Especially when people make comments like:

1. Once you put your kids in school, you'll have more time to write. Then you can write more meaningful book.

2. You're a writer? I thought all you did was homeschool your kids.

3. You're adopting another kid? Isn't four enough?

4. I've always wanted to be a writer, but I wouldn't write those kind of books. I want to write something that matters.

5. You're so lucky.

6. I've always wanted to be a writer, but I just don't have the time.

I think that's it. I'm sure, though, that if given enough time, I could think of more.

That's one of the things about a bad mood. If we allow ourselves to dwell on it, we'll just keep sinking lower and lower into a pit of our own making. This morning I woke up with a verse running through my head - Philippians 4:8 Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. When we choose to dwell on the negative, we become negative people. When we seek out the positive, we'll find it. That can only make us happier, more positive people.

In the long run, the things that bug me aren't nearly as important as the things that make me smile - my children, my husband, my family, my friends, the kids in my children's choir, the readers who search library and used book stores trying to find my books and those that write to tell me my stories touched their hearts. Today, I choose to dwell on the gifts rather than the grievances.

Go forth with joy!


In the past week or so, I've received many emails from readers who can not find LITTLE GIRL LOST. If you're looking for the second book in the Secrets of Stoneley series and find your way here, I do have some copies of the book which I am more than happy to send out. Just email me your address and I'll pop one in the mail for you. Of course, I have a limited supply of these books, but what I have, I'll share! :0)


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Preparing a Multi-Book Proposal

My friend Lynette who recently sold her second book to Steeple Hill asked me about writing a multi-book proposal. You can find Lynette and news about her books here -

If that link works it'll be a minor miracle considering how bad I am at this stuff.

Anyway, on to the subject at hand. Multi-book proposal writing.

First, I've got to be honest, I've never actually written one until this last sale, so I'm no expert.

Are you wondering how it's possible to get a multi-book contract without writing a multi-book proposal? So am I. Sometimes things fall into place. For me, I guess they did. My first sale was for two books - completely unexpected as I'd written one book and hadn't even suggested an idea for a second. My thought on this is that Steeple Hill was offering all their trade book authors multi-book contracts. They wanted STILL WATERS for their trade line. They offered me a two book deal. That seemed to set off a pattern which I'd love to have repeated over and over again. I feel truly blessed by how many books I've sold in multi-book deals. It doesn't typically happen this way, and my only answer to the question why is that God has reasons. It certainly isn't because of anything I've done.

Okay, that's not quite true. I have worked really hard. I meet my deadlines and I produce clean manuscripts (thanks to my freelance editor Sara Parker). I also listen to my editors and take their suggestions to heart. In other words, I try to make their work as easy as possible.

All that aside, I did finally decide to write a proposal for more than one book. In my latest proposal, I suggest a three book series. Here is how I set it up. First, I prepared a thorough proposal for the book I was working on. That included the three elements you saw in yesterday's post. It may seem like a lot of effort to come up with a sales handle, back cover copy, and promo sentence when you could simply send in three chapters and a synopsis, but by doing this you create a concise summary of your book. This allows the editor to know immediately whether or not the idea will work for her. It also looks very professional. That's always a plus!

Along with the above mentioned three elements, you also need to have a stellar three chapters and a three to eight page synopsis. Yes, I know three to eight pages is vague. I've had editors who like them short and editor who want more detail. If you're unpublished, I'd suggest the longer of the two because your synopsis allows the editor to see that your story works, that it has a clear plot and compelling characters, that it has both focus and direction. These are all vital characteristics of a well-written book.

In the proposal I just sold, I suggested three brothers and my cover letter read something like this -

Meet the Sinclair brothers - Tristan, Grayson, and Jude. One is an ATF agent, one is a lawyer, one is a New York cop. They're all men of faith, willing to do whatever it takes to protect the women they love. Once they find them, that is.

Lakeview Heroes, each of the brothers finds love in the most unexpected of places. Enclosed you'll find Tristan's story. The youngest of the three, Tristan is a man with a plan. Until Martha Gabler arrives on the scene and ruins it.

The next step is the hardest. Prepare a short summary of each of your proposed stories. This will give the editor an idea of where you're headed with the series. I'd suggest no more than a page. As a matter of fact, something along lines of the backcover blurb I posted yesterday would probably work. You don't need tons of details. Just enough to show the editor that you have a plan.

And, no, I stupidly did not include summaries when I proposed the Sinclair brothers. Don't follow my example. The fact is, I've already written nine books for Steeple Hill, and they have faith in me. Unless you are a multi-published author, you really do need to have a summary of each story. Even multi-published authors should have summaries. As I mentioned, sometimes I'm not all that savvy about such things until after the fact.

I think that's it.

We're Tye-dying shirts with my nieces and nephews today, so I've got to go prepare for the onslaught. If you have any questions about proposal writing, feel free to ask. It's the one part of writing that I actually feel pretty confident about!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Story

My editor has sent me back to the drawing board for the title.

For those who asked - here is the story (as well as a peek at how I set up my proposals):

Promo Sentence: When a camping trip turns deadly, a heart-broken woman and an undercover ATF agent must count on their faith and on each other to survive.

Sales Handle: Hero or hit man?

Back cover copy:A family cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the perfect place for Martha Gabler to escape sympathetic friends when she breaks up with her fiancé, but her getaway turns deadly when she encounters a group of gun runners determined to keep her from revealing their identities.

Undercover ATF agent Tristan Sinclair is expecting to close down an illegal weapons ring. Instead, he’s fighting for the life of a woman whose faith and courage inspire him. Determined to keep her safe, Tristan travels to the sleepy town of Lakeview, Virginia, and learns that protecting Martha isn’t nearly as difficult as protecting his heart.

Titles, Titles, Titles

I'm really horrible at naming my books. Especially now that I've been told the titles need to be more 'hooky'. That's hook as in draw the reader in and let them know what the story is about immediately. You may be wondering how this is different than what I've been doing all along. Here is a list of my titles for my Lakeview series. Let's play that old Sesame Street game - Which of These Things is Not Like the Other -


Did you spot it? It's like a green apple in a bowl full of red ones. LAKEVIEW PROTECTOR. No, I didn't come up with that title. I came up with about fifteen others. None of which worked.

Personally, I like the idea of hooky titles. I think they really do make a reader stop and take notice. They specifically name key elements of the book and let the potential buyer know before even reading the back cover blurb what the story is about. Obviously, my seventh Lakeview book is about...gasp...a protector.

Here's the problem, I can't write hooky titles. I try. Really, I do. But they just don't come easy to me. Case in point - book number ten. You'd think that by this point, I'd be able to pull a title out in five seconds flat, but over the past twenty-four hours, I've begged, borrowed, and stolen ideas from a variety of people (including, at my editor's suggestion - and how bad must my ideas have been if she made this suggestion - my children).

The original title was purposefully hooky - A HERO BY CHANCE. It was also knowingly bad. I expected to have to change it, but somehow neglected to think up new ideas. Probably because any idea I did come up with was equally bad. At this point, I'm wondering if the book will have a title at all. After consulting with friends, family and kids, there are a more than a few possibilities. Among them - Guardian Hero, Her Kind of Hero, Gunrunner Hero, Her Perfect Hero, A Hero By Design, Unlikely Hero, A Forever Hero, A Hero to Count on, A True Hero, Hero on the Mountain, A Hero at Heart, A Hero at Mind, A Sheep In Wolf's Clothing, The Lost and Lonely Hero, The Hero that is an Agent but is Protecting Someone

The ones in bold are the ones my kids came up with.

What will my editors come up with? That's the real question.

BTW, I'm still taking suggestions. Feel free to make some!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Double Digits

Yesterday, I received an email from my editor which stated that she wanted to buy my proposed manuscript. I was very excited for two reasons. First, I'm always excited when I sell a book. Second, I love my chocoholic heroine and I'm THRILLED that Melissa Endlich and Krista Stroever do, too (I plugged in the names in case anyone happens to have a great RS manuscript to send in). Third (ooops, I guess there are more than two reasons), I had a personal goal of selling book # ten by the end of this year and I DID IT!

To my surprise, when I spoke to Melissa on the phone she said she wants to buy all three of my Sinclair brothers' stories. That will make book 10, 11, and 12.

Wow! I can't quite wrap my mind around that. I remember when I sold the first two books, and I wondered if I'd be a one book wonder. I remember just two weeks ago wondering if I'd ever sell another book again. I remember all those moments of doubt and angst as I got ready to mail my proposal in.

It's strange how life is. You can be so convinced you're going to succeed and then fail. And you can be completely sure you'll fail and then succeed. It's in God's hands. Talent alone is never the driving force in success. Determination and faith - those are the things that eventually see you through.

Sabrina, if you're out there we need to chat!