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Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Laurel Kerr!

Today we’re continuing one of our favorite Ruby Traditions and welcoming the first of our special guests from the Golden Heart Finalist class of 2017!!

Most years we have to wait a few weeks while the group struggles and frets and sometimes outright battles over finding the perfect name for themselves, but this year we know from the start! The 2017 Golden Heart Finalists are known as….Drumroll please……the REBELLES!!!!

The credit for the idea goes to Alice Yu, but the group loved it as soon as they heard it. It gives a nod to Belle from Beauty and the Beast, is the French title of Disney’s Brave, AND straight up means “rebel” (“like Leia,” says Rebelle Melonie Johnson, “the ultimate rebel princess who is also now a Disney princess.”) Besides, says Tracy Brody, “we’re all a bit rebellious!” So it’s the perfect name.

Vive les Rebelles!!

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Now it’s time to welcome our first Rebelle guest: returning Golden Heart Finalist Laurel Kerr, who was nominated in the Contemporary category last year, and is back this year as a finalist in HISTORICAL!

By day, Laurel Kerr is an attorney, but she loves escaping into a fantasy world at night when she pens contemporary, historical, and time travel romances. She has a wonderful husband, who indulges her writing habit, and a Cavalier spaniel, Selkie, who assists the writing process by curling next to Laurel. Since her guest blog last year, there was been a new addition to family—a little daughter, who, she says, “at three months old is not yet too much of a critic.”

Here’s a blurb for her nominated manuscript, LORD LION AND THE LADY PUBLISHER:

Dubbed Lord Lion of the Silk Jungle, Bastian rules the glittering ballrooms of early Victorian London but his joie de vivre masks secrets.  His father, a tight-fisted duke, severely limits Bastian’s allowance, forcing Bastian to employ his charm to supplement his meager income.  He spends his evenings at lavish Society events and his nights in the beds of attractive, rich widows.  But Bastian’s bacchanalian existence is threatened when his father demands that he woo and marry a wealthy publisher’s daughter, Athena St. Giles.  The child of a former street urchin and a reporter herself, Athena cares little for the peerage who scorns her family.  She cares even less for the too glib Bastian. Certain that Bastian only approached her on a wager, Athena rebuffs his attempts at courtship. Desperate to gain an audience with his quarry, Bastian applies to be a gossip columnist for her family’s paper.  Soon he is penning articles, defending Athena against thugs, and attending the rambunctious St. Giles family dinners.  Athena glimpses the substance beneath Bastian’s dazzling façade, but she still questions his sudden affection.  Bastian must prove to Athena, and to himself, that he possesses the resolve necessary to become a self-made man, no longer financially dependent on his father or Society. 

Sounds delicious!!!

Laurel’s here today to talk with us about the complex and surprisingly emotional topic of WRITING AS A BUSINESS.

Take it away, Laurel!

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“My manuscript is my baby.”

Writers often use these words to describe their work. From a creative perspective, it makes perfect sense. Writing is an intensely personal endeavor, especially when penning fiction. Characters spring from your mind, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus. Even before you type that first word on the screen, they’ve lived in your brain. You know their histories, their secret fears, their hopes, their tragedies, their successes, and their foibles. And, as a romance writer, you also know their deepest emotions. They’ve had conversations in your head. They’ve kissed and made love. You understand them down to the subatomic level because you’ve created them.

Then, as you begin to write, you nurture your characters into being with the words on the page. Through the weeks and months that you work on your manuscript, you watch them grow and develop under your careful tutelage. Sometimes your characters surprise you and take you and them on unexpected courses. And their journey isn’t easy. You need to show tough love, throwing up both internal and external roadblocks, because your character must earn that happy ending and so must you. Your heart beats faster when danger approaches. Anger rushes through you as your characters argue. Your heart thrills when they find love at last.

And then you finish, and you’ve left a part of yourself between those black and white letters. You feel an emotional connection and pride toward your work—this literal brainchild of yours.

But then here comes the hard step, perhaps the hardest of them all for an aspiring author.

You need to stop looking at your work as your child, and start looking at it as the work product that it is. Because if you want to sell it—to an agent, to an editor, or to an audience of readers—you have to regard it with the same dispassion as an engineer would to a widget made from a hunk of metal. You need to test it by sending it out for critiques. When you receive negative feedback, you must recalibrate through edits—some minor and some major. And if there is no market for your particular widget, you just might find yourself crafting an entirely new one. During this time, you must divorce yourself from your creative side and call upon the rational.

I am fortunate enough to have been born with a healthy dose of both fantasy and pragmatism. My day job as an attorney has cultivated my practical nature. Law school is the anvil on which fanciful dross is hammered out, leaving behind a hard, steely logical core. Working as in-house counsel for a manufacturing company has further infused me with a business sense and left me thick-skinned when it comes to criticism. And, most importantly, I have learned when to unleash my creative side and when to reign it back in favor of bloodless realism. This is a skill that I believe would serve all aspiring authors well.

Many people write for their own enjoyment. I did that for myself for years, starting as a teenager. But once a person makes the decision to pursue a career as an author, she is no longer penning stories for herself, but for a market. Make no mistake about it, selling books is a business—a business with its roots in art, but a business all the same.

As an unpublished author who just made the decision to transition my hobby into a paying gig a little over a year ago, I am still learning the industry. Joining my local RWA chapter, the Three River Romance Writers (TRRW), and securing an agent has helped. I am continually awed by the business prowess of the TRRW’s self-published members.

It also has been invaluable to be able to reach out to my agent to discuss what genre is currently being purchased by publishing houses. For instance, I have learned that the current market for historicals is very hard to break into as those readers tend to remain loyal to established authors and are typically more reluctant than readers of contemporaries to try an untried writer. With that knowledge driving me, I put aside the sequel that I was writing to my historical manuscript, LORD LION AND THE LADY PUBLISHER that finaled in the Golden Heart® this year, even though I love the characters and am excited about the plot. Instead, I returned to writing contemporaries. VOLUNTEERING HER HEART (my contemporary about a guy, a girl, and a zoo) reached the finals last year. I bounced several of the concepts floating in my head off my agent, and we landed on my idea to write about a romance that blossoms between two equally stubborn law students defending an innocent man on death row.

With the business decision thus made, I switched back into creative gear. As I near the end of my first draft, I have fallen in love with these characters as much as I had my historical ones. I’m enthused about the tale and have reached that writing nirvana where the words just flow onto the computer screen. But once I’m done, the logical lawyer will once again rise to the surface. I’ll be ruthless in my edits as I parse and snip my manuscript into shape.

And then I’ll send it off to be weighed, measured, and judged. If I receive feedback from editors, I won’t view it as criticism of my baby. Instead, I’ll listen to the business side of my brain and be grateful for the free advice from industry experts. After analysis, I’ll make a determination on how to proceed, whether it’s more rewrites or once again switching gears entirely. And with a plan in place for my work product, I’ll dive back into writing, and I’ll enjoy the tale I’m telling.

QUESTION: What business tips do you have to share with aspiring authors like me?

42 responses to “Meet 2017 Golden Heart Finalist Laurel Kerr!”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Laurel!! It’s great to have you with us!

    You’re absolutely right that we creative souls somehow have to find a strain of inner pragmatism, both in making business decisions and in ruthlessly editing ourselves after the first creative wave is done. It’s a tough, tough balance sometimes.

    For those who didn’t read Shelley Coriell’s post from yesterday, it’s a great example of logically identifying what originally kept a book from selling, and then using a (creative!!) solution to fix the problem and make it sell!

    I’m looking forward to hearing what commenters have to say today!

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks Elisa for this wonderful opportunity and your introduction! It’s great to be back again. I’m off the read Shelley Coriell’s post. It sounds like it will be an insightful read about a very important and useful skill to learn.

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Elisa,

      I just read Shelley Coriell’s post, which was excellent. I really enjoyed her tip for writers! It is also a good read for those like me who are still working toward getting published. It is a good lesson in perseverance and being willing to critique your own work.

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  2. Heather D McCollum says:

    Hi Laurel and congratulations! I love your post. You are spot on. Often our books feel like our babies, but really they are very different. We can change our plots, characters, motivations. Even if our characters are stubborn, we can tweak their backgrounds/baggage and make them into other people (very unlike our children). : )

    So…advice. I still have a hard time receiving developmental edits from my awesome editor. Even though she is obviously trying to help bring out the very best in my book, it feels a bit like I’m being told my ideas were wrong or my characters were just not good enough. And if we think of our books as our children, those comments will bring out the “mama bear” in us.

    My advice is to read through the comments quickly and put them away for a day. Then, if there is a cover letter outlining the big changes that should be made, I print it out. I highlight, and scribble in the margins, ideas for how I can change the manuscript to reflect the editor’s ideas. A foreshadowing here. More information on character background there. A sprinkling of attitude in this chapter, etc.
    So when I go back to my manuscript, I can move through it, adding and tweaking (or moving and deleting) scenes, dialogue and details.
    Even though at first, edit requests might seem terrible, I’ve learned to trust my editor and her vision as someone not so close to the project (like me). She has a perspective closer to that of a reader. And we certainly want to make our readers fall in love with our books.

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks for stopping by Heather and for the great advice! I too find that distance helps when you receive feedback on your work. Back in college I had this amazing professor who would make your paper bleed red even if she gave you an “A” The first time, I was so upset. Then I stepped back, worked with her comments, and realized how much better my work became.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes, Heather…it’s SO hard to hear that constructive feedback. But so important.

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  3. C.R. Grissom says:

    Laurel,

    Fabulous advice. I agree, as the author you give birth to the characters, you want them to grow emotionally and find their perfect match. It’s brutal at times when you receive less than stellar feedback about something you worked hard to create and mold into a page-turning read.

    Thanks for the reminder that in the end it’s a product that has to be the best it can be in order to hit the shelves or a reader’s Kindle.

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks for stopping by C.R. It is brutal at times! When we send out our manuscripts, I think we all send out a little of ourselves. I always try to look at feedback as a challenge and a way to learn more about my characters and even myself as a writer. But unfortunately the emotional responses often kicks in before the practical one can take over.

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      • True story! There are times when I believe I’ve developed skin like an armadillo and yet a comment will slip under my hard shell to pierce and reveal another sensitive spot!

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        • Elisa Beatty says:

          You can never lose the sensitive spot entirely, C.R., or you couldn’t keep writing! It’s so hard to CARE so much (which we must) and get hard feedback (which we must).

          And REVIEWS…Holy moly, those are a whole ‘nother form of torture. Even when the vast majority are golden.

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          • C.R. Grissom says:

            Elisa, I can’t begin to imagine! As someone with publishing aspirations, I’ve heard it’s best NOT to read the scathing reviews. At that point, nothing can be done to fix it—whereas prior to publication you have the ability to make sweeping changes. I do think published authors have it so much worse than any pre-published sisters in that all comments can be read by many, piled upon, etc. ::shivers::

            The alternative is to walk away, and in my opinion, it’s the more horrifying option.

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  4. Welcome, Laurel and much Ruby love! I shared an eight-week series here on the Ruby blog earlier in the year on the business end of writing. Some great discussions on everything from prioritizing to goal setting.

    http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/write-on-2017-prioritize-your-writing/

    As for a single piece of advice: If you opt to get an agent, select one that is passionate about you, your story, and your career. Do not accept poor communications, an unfocused or lackluster submissions plan, or lack of respect. A bad agent can kill a career. A good agent can be one of your greatest business assets. Chose wisely.

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks for stopping by Shelley! I read through the post on your link and will be reading through the rest of the series. It took me a long time to figure out how to prioritize my writing. Luckily, I have a very understanding husband who doesn’t mind doing that extra load of laundry so I can write.

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      • Laurel Kerr says:

        Also, as a new mom, I am learning the art of nursing and writing at the same time. Once I figured that out, my daily words count has certainly increased!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      A fabulous series!!!

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  5. Tracy Brody says:

    Love your blurb and way you write so beautifully. I look forward to reading that story at some time.

    As for business advice, I think you kind of nailed it in that you have to be willing to listen to others who can give you feedback. We as authors sometimes have a hard time realizing we don’t have to do it all on our own. Constructive feedback doesn’t necessarily equate with criticism. It can help us strengthen areas that we haven’t mastered yet, or story or character problems we are often too close to see.

    Sounds like you have a great working relationship with your agent as a business partner. Wishing you the best of luck with this manuscript and your career.

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks so much for the lovely compliments and for stopping by, Tracy. I can wait to read your series, especially with all the awards they’ve won already!

      I’m fortunate to have family members who give very useful constructive feedback and not just praise. But, unfortunately for them, they’re family, so sometimes they get the brunt of my knee jerk reaction. But I always appreciate the insight that they give to my work.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      That’s a wonderfully positive way to frame, it Tracy–“we don’t have to do it on our own.”

      Yes, once you find an editor you trust, their tough feedback is really something that makes you much, much stronger in the end. And, luckily, we can learn what our shortcomings are, and hopefully not have to keep hearing the same criticism again and again.

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  6. Rita Henuber says:

    Congratulations Laurel on being a 2017 Golden Heart finalist. Have you stopped bouncing off the walls yet?
    Thank you for your thoughtful post. There are many good tips in here.

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks for stopping by Rita! It is an exciting time. My daughter was on my lap when I got the call and, at less than two months old, she was a little confused by mommy’s excitement.

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  7. Laurel – Welcome and congratulations! Your finaling book this year sounds wonderful.

    Best business tips? The thick skin you mentioned is definitely one and you’re already demonstrating the versatility and adaptability that I think contribute to success – I am a big believer in the ability to reinvent yourself when the market shifts. Determination is also key. And patience. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and there are lots of ups and downs, no matter what level of the business you are at, so my best advice is to always try to keep an even keel and just keep pushing to be your best and get your work out there.

    GOOD LUCK with both your contemporary and historical books! And good luck in Orlando!

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks for the congratulations, the compliments, and the great advice! For aspiring authors like me, I think we’re often so focused on getting the first book published, that we forget about the rest of the ups and downs that we’ll face throughout our careers. Robin Carr’s speech at Nationals last year, which focused on how she struggled mid-career to get her work published, was really inspiring and educational for newbies like me.

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  8. Jennifer Henderson says:

    Great piece, Laurel. For writers, who tend to live more in their hearts than their heads, this element of the business is tricky. But you clearly outline why the logical and practical is the necessary twin to the creative. Can’t wait to read Lord Lion and the Lady Publisher!

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  9. Melonie says:

    Thanks for kicking us off with such a great post Mermaid & Rebelle sister! Both your historical AND contemporary sound awesome, so I hope we can see both on the shelves one day. It’s funny (and frustrating), because I think there are roadblocks/challenges discussed in every genre – I hear all the time how the Contemporary market is saturated…but I do think the observation that historical readers tend to stick to favorite authors while contemporary readers are more willing to give someone new a try is spot-on.
    As for a business tip – something I am hearing over and over again is how important the one-line hook is. One amazing killer line your agent can use to lure an editor, the editor can use to lure a bookseller, and the bookseller can use to lure a customer. All that in one sentence – no pressure! 🙂

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks for the tip Melonie. Boiling down my work to one sentence is always a difficult step for me. I’ve always been rather verbose. I recall my ninth grade teacher always chiding me to be “pithier”.

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    • Lara Archer says:

      I remember back in 2009 when Darynda Jones was struggling to get any agent or editor interested in the First Grave book. She was getting zero traction, she said, until she came up with a different first line for her book blurb. I wish I could remember the exact wording, but it was something like “Charley Davidson was born with two things: a smokin’ hot ass, and the title of Grim Reaper.”

      That line caught all sorts of attention (and accurately captured the humor and energy of the books), and suddenly everybody was interested…and the rest is history.

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  10. Darynda says:

    I love this post!!! Welcome, Laurel, and CONGRATS!!!

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  11. Lovely post on heart vs. head, Laurel!

    I think you hit the nail straight on when you said, “I’ll listen to the business side of my brain and be grateful for the free advice from industry experts. After analysis, I’ll make a determination on how to proceed, whether it’s more rewrites or once again switching gears entirely.”

    It’s a hard thing to put dispassionate analysis into practice, but I believe it’s necessary. After all, a career is (hopefully) a marathon, not a sprint!

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Susannah,

      Thanks for stopping by! Although like C.R. said above about always having a soft spot no matter how many plates of armor you don, I’ve found that practicing dispassionate analysis does make it easier. That, I think, and seeing the positive results that comes from listening to constructive criticism.

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    • Lara Archer says:

      Absolutely a marathon!! And you get stronger and tougher as you go!

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  12. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks so much for being with us today, Laurel, and for getting the Rebelle guest blogs and interviews going!!

    I’m excited to meet more of the Rebelle’s and be witness to the thrilling journey you’re all on!!

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  13. Congrats on being a GH finalist, Laurel. Being a science fiction romance author, I love the name you all chose for the class of 2017. 🙂

    I don’t often read Historicals, but I have to admit your premise for Lord Lion really intrigues me!

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    • Laurel Kerr says:

      Thanks, Laurie, and thanks for stopping by! It was a very fun naming process this year. There were a lot of excellent ideas, and although it was hard to choose just one, we’re all very excited about the Rebelle name. We have quite a few talent artists this year, and all the potential pin designs were beautiful.

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  14. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Congratulations, Laurel!

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  15. suzanne turner says:

    Hi Laurel!
    Congrats. You had me at “Silk Jungle.”

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