Introducing 2012 Golden Heart finalist Kat Cantrell!

I am SO thrilled to be the one to introduce you all to Kat Cantrell. I met Kat back in 2009, and her friendship and encouragement has meant the world to me. I can’t even tell you how fun it is for me to be able to share in her incredible journey to publication. She’s smart, she’s funny (don’t let her tell you she’s not!), and she’s here today to share some fabulous wisdom.

Take it away, Kat! :)

Five Things I’m Glad I Did Before Selling and/or Finaling in the Golden Heart


Today we’re hosting Kat Cantrell, 2012 Golden Heart ®finalist in Contemporary Series Romance.

Kat read her first Harlequin novel in third grade and has been scribbling in notebooks since she learned to spell. She majored in English Lit, officially with the intent to teach, but ended up buried in middle management at Corporate America, Inc. She left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom while chasing the dream of becoming a published author. Kat lives in North Texas with her husband and two sons. In addition to her Golden Heart final, Kat is also the winner of Harlequin’s 2012 SYTYCW competition.

Her Golden Heart finaling manuscript, THE DIVORCE DEAL, is about a woman committed to helping victims of domestic abuse, who talks a real estate tycoon into a six-month marriage so she can access her inheritance, only to find her divorce in jeopardy when he wants to make the union permanent. THE DIVORCE DEAL will be released in February, 2013 by Harlequin Desire.

You can learn more about Kat at her website: and follow her on twitter at:


Thank you to the Rubies for having me here today. I am a huge admirer of the Rubies as a whole, both for the wonderful blog I’ve spent many a morning reading, and because of the enormous talent represented here. Also, because every last one of them is super nice. I am blessed to call a Ruby my best friend (waves at Cynthia Justlin) and blessed to stand alongside several Rubies in the Golden Heart Finalist Class of 2012.

On that note, when it was mentioned I should do a guest blog, I wracked my brain for a topic. I don’t think of myself as particularly funny or engaging in real life – that’s my husband’s role and yes, I steal his jokes for my manuscripts. <grin> So I thought about all that’s happened to me in the last little while. Within forty-five days, I won Harlequin’s SYTYCW competition, sold two books to Harlequin Desire, finaled in the Golden Heart and signed with an agent. What a whirlwind! Once I (sort of) caught my breath, I realized I’m glad I did a few things before all this went down and perhaps the unpublished writers in the audience might benefit from my thoughts. If not, feel free to print out and practice your dart throwing.

  1. I’m glad I already had a social presence set up under my pen name. Thank you to the Queen of Goal-Setting, Bria Quinlan, for insisting this is necessary before you final or sell. I did it, even though I didn’t believe her. I was thinking to myself – I’m not published. Who cares about my website and whether I have x number of followers on twitter? Well, I should care. Because I set everything up then, it’s time saved which I did not have to spend now. You work really hard for a long time and it seems like The Call will never come. When it does, things move very quickly and you’ll have an influx of new things to think about and worry about. Setting up a website and twitter and Facebook and whatever else is not something you want to be doing at the same time. Oh, that also means you have to decide on a pen name too. My agent contacted me via my website. If I hadn’t had one, that relationship likely wouldn’t exist today.
  2. I’m glad I had already received two previous revise and resubmit letters on two separate manuscripts. It might seem unfair to work on such a huge task without a contract or guarantee, but turns out, it’s good practice for when you get revisions on your selling manuscript. Yes, even my contest-winning manuscript had requested revisions. You will too. Figure out now how to tackle them now, before you have a deadline on a signed contract. For myself, I reread the entire manuscript first and then made notes about where to make the suggested changes. Then I did small stuff first, like clarifying what a character meant by this particular statement. Big stuff, like adding scenes, I did next and then I worked on overall character arc and motivation issues. Even you don’t agree with the changes or don’t think the editor/agent “gets you”, do it for the practice.
  3. I’m glad I had already researched what to expect financially when I targeted Harlequin. Better than that, I prepared my husband for it, too. He knew exactly what dollar figure would be on the check and has for about a year. Yes, you might get that six-figure deal and beat the odds. Won’t that be a nice surprise when you and your family were expecting what Brenda Hiatts Show Me the Money says every other first-time author on the planet makes? Hope for the exception, prepare for the standard.
  4. I’m glad I had already written five complete manuscripts and had an appropriate, complete second manuscript ready to submit to my editor. We discussed subsequent books during our first conversation about my SYTYCW-winning manuscript and within a week, she read and bought another book. It’s critical to know how long it takes you to write a book anyway (my agent asked me and I was able to tell her immediately, because you know, I keep track. And I’d written more than one) and there’s no better way to get faster than to write another book while the first one is on submission. Lots of people struggle to write a second book in the same vein as the first selling book and that adds to the pressure. I didn’t have that pressure because I wrote it before I sold the first one. P.S. I talk big. Book number three is just as hard if not harder to write because I now have the pressure to get the proposal in before I start line-edits. I know. I have nice problems.
  5. I’m glad I had already developed a five-year plan. (Thank you to Bria, again) It helped me look at the big picture and set yearly goals. Often I hear of writers who don’t enter a contest because they didn’t have something ready. Most big contests happen at the same time every year. So do things like summer vacation and Christmas. If you know you want to enter the Golden Heart and you know the deadline is in November, look at your time commitments NOW. If you know you want to submit to agents, most agencies close around the end of the year and are hit with an influx of submissions in January. Submit in September instead or whatever makes sense for what you’re targeting (you’ve done your research. Now use that information!). Most importantly, I know I want to write more than one book a year. It’s important to plan that out in chunks so I know when I need to start and when I must be finished, like before summer vacation and the kids are home to bug the mess out of me. If anyone’s interested, my five year plan started in 2010 and I’m ahead of my goals.

So that’s five things, some which are more critical before you sell as opposed to finaling in a major contest, but we can’t forget that oftentimes, one leads to the other. More so than any of these, I’m glad I spent the last three years developing friendships with other writers. This journey is so much more valuable and exciting when you have awesome people to share it with. Thanks for being one of them.

My goal is to save you some heartache and angst. Put that in your manuscripts, ladies, not your lives! My question for you (and I’d love some feedback from published authors who’ve been there) — which one do you completely disagree with and which one had you nodding your head? Anyone have something else they’re glad they did before (sold, became a finalist, signed with an agent, fill-in-the-blank) happened?

54 Responses to “Introducing 2012 Golden Heart finalist Kat Cantrell!”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Kat!! (Well, welcome back…and welcome as a guest blogger!) It’s great to have you here!

    I love organized people (I’m not one, sadly), and I’m so impressed you’ve got so much under control already!

    Congrats again on the sales, and the Golden Heart nomination, and the agent! Here’s to a long and prosperous career!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Thanks Elisa! There’s still a part of me that can’t believe all the great things that have happened. Guest blogging with the Rubies is one of them. :) Organization – and the business side of publishing as a whole – is just as critical as the creative side and I’m lucky I seem to do okay at both!

  2. I’d planned to be your first comment, but Elisa beat me to it! ;)

    I know I’ve said it many times, but it always bears repeating. I am in awe of how disciplined and organized you are. I’m trying to learn from you. Failing, but trying. LOL.

    The biggest thing I wish I’d done was to have more books lined up before I sold. Now I feel like I’m scrambling to get more written. It’s a lot more pressure than I imagined.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Well, I’m trying to learn how to write a better first draft from you and not doing so well either. :) One day, we’ll both be awesome at everything! Thanks for hosting me.

      I think everyone wishes they’d written more before they sold, especially me who is also feeling the pressure to write that next book. That’s the secret everyone has to learn for themselves – it doesn’t get easier, just a different kind of hard.

      • You’re right. The challenges don’t go away, they just become different. I’ve always thought I worked well under pressure…but, now…it’s a different kind of pressure than I thought it was going to be!

  3. Congratulations, Kat. When I critiqued the opening to your book last fall, I knew it would sell! You have an incredible voice and a wonderful premise. I’m so happy for you! I can’t wait to read the rest of the story.

  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    Kat said: —> I think everyone wishes they’d written more before they sold, especially me who is also feeling the pressure to write that next book.

    This is a really important point. My GH finalist was my first manuscript, and I sold it in a three-book deal. Books two and three were…vapor. Deadline pressure + learning curve = massive stress! Though not optimal from a career-building perspective, thankfully my agent and I had negotiated annual releases, because I’ve since learned that I’m a rather slow writer, to boot. Maybe I should change my Ruby name from Ruby Boots to Ruby Tortoise?! ;-) But my career plan, of necessity, is slow and steady.

    –> That’s the secret everyone has to learn for themselves – it doesn’t get easier, just a different kind of hard.

    THIS. Listen to Kat. Kat is wise. ;-)

    Congratulations, and I hope to get a chance to meet you in person in Anaheim!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Hi Tamara, thanks for the awesome additional points (and for thinking I’m wise LOL)! I admit, negotiating release dates is very high on the list of reasons I signed with an agent. It’s a great thing to have so many who have gone before to help us get to the Emerald City, isn’t it? :)

      I am SO looking forward to Anaheim and hope to meet you too!

  5. Terri Osburn says:

    Tamara is right. Lots of wisdom here! I’ve done most of these things. The online presence is good and I’ve used the GH as a deadline for three years now. (Using it again this year.)

    My biggest hurdle is writing faster and cleaner, so that’s where my energy is going right now. I’m shooting for 1500-2K words a day and so far I’m hitting my goal. But this is requiring more discipline than I ever had before, so we’ll see if I can stick with it.

    I admit, the 5 year plan thing makes me nervous. I have a business degree so you’d think I’d be good with this. But no. Right now the plan is to write more, write faster, and write better. The rest I’ll make up as I go along. :)

    Congrats again on all your amazing success. You’re kicking butt!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Thanks Terri! Yeah, faster and cleaner – that’s the boat I need to be on. Here’s another thing I learned from Bria ** which helped me develop discipline: Treat writing like an unpaid internship and one day, you’ll get the paying job.

      **I swear she’s not paying me to say this stuff. I just learned a lot from her and can’t help but pass it along.

      • Terri Osburn says:

        I’ve known Bria has her act together for a while. :) I didn’t think of it as an internship so much as a job with delayed pay. LOL! I can’t chase something this big and then decide I can’t do it. Can’t sign a contract or sign with an agent and then say, “I guess I can’t really write. Sorry.”

        If I’m going to do it I need to do it for real starting now as if I already have a contract. Shouldn’t have taken this long to figure that out but better to learn it now than later I guess.

    • Writing faster while writing better (cleaner) is on my to do list! If you figure out how to do it, let me know! :)

      • Terri Osburn says:

        Cynthia – The faster is working since I turned off the TV. And for a TV addict, that was BIG. The cleaner isn’t quite there yet, but I’m trying. :)

  6. Bria Quinlan says:

    You’re way too sweet. I’m always amazed by your drive and talent. I’m so darn excited for you!

  7. Jeannie Lin says:

    Wonderful and thoughtful post Kat! It’s so heartwarming to see someone who’s worked so hard for so long finally reap the rewards.

    Like you, I was thankful that I’d written three manuscripts before selling. That follow-up book was already written before any fear/anxiety/doubts had set in.

    As to disagree…hmm…I had to work hard to be contrary. All your points are so good. I’d put in a word of caution about Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me The Money. Word on the street is advances are dropping fast so those averages, which are from years of data, are often an inaccurate portrayal of the current trends.

    I too have found Bria Quinlan is a good person for kicking your butt into gear. *waves*

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Actually, you’ve done a lot to help me along too! All your wisdom has filtered in over the years as well. So that’s a good point about Show Me the Money. Almost everything about publishing is in flux and subject to change without warning (not always for the better). That’s why friendships with supportive people are so critical. I’m constantly amazed at how eager everyone is to share their experiences.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Kat, we should all be so organized and prepared. :) It sounds like you planned for success and are now reaping the rewards of all that hard work–kudos to you!

    Congratulations on the GH final! I’m looking forward to reading The Divorce Deal, and to meeting you in Anaheim!

  9. Great post and great advice! I completely agree about setting up social media beforehand. I had a website and a twitter account before signing with an agent. It made things easy–I already had everything in place.

    Congrats on your book deal!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Thanks Stephanie for stopping by! Twitter was pretty easy to set up but my website took a looooong time. Might have something to do with being a perfectionist. :)

  10. robena grant says:

    Great post, Kat, and congrats! again on your GH final, and all of your success. Your advice is wise and I think it generous of you to show that we have to work hard at this chosen career for five to ten years before seeing positive results. I have a yearly goals sheet, and I used to do a five year plan. Must go back to doing that again. Thanks.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Thanks Robena! It is a long, hard road but so worth it. I really like being able to see it at a high level, especially when my editor is already asking what I want to write for release in 2014. What publishing works so far in advance, I think authors HAVE to. Hope you put together a winning plan when you get back to it!

  11. Jan Nash says:

    Wonderful post, Kat! It reads like a recipe to success. So many think getting published is like winning the lottery, nothing but luck. Just like any other great achievement, success is the result of hard work and discipline. Thanks for sharing. You might think about putting this together for a workshop!
    Anxious to meet you in Anaheim.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Looking forward to meeting you as well and thanks for stopping by Jan! Publishing is a job like every other one (except it’s way awesomer :)) so yes, hard work and discipline are necessary, even after you sell. I didn’t want to be scrambling to figure it all out now when I could have spent time figuring it out then. So glad I did!

  12. Wow — it’s sounds like you’ve had some amazing friends/mentors who’ve given you terrific advice.

    I’m totally jealous of your long-term plan. I can barely keep to a one-year plan, but I’m trying.

    Can’t wait to meet you in Anaheim!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      I HAVE had some amazing people come into my life since I decided to do this thing. But I think it’s due to really seeking it out because I knew nothing about publishing. Thanks for stopping by Eileen, and having a one-year plan is nothing to sneeze at, so don’t be jealous. :) Looking forward to meeting you too!

  13. Great post, Kat! Congratulations on all of the wonderful things that have been happening! It’s easy to see why, though — it’s obvious you not only planned and organized, but you’ve followed through on your plans.

    I have to say these all sound important, but the one I have the most experience with is #1 — setting up that online presence. Being an IT-type, it was second nature for me to set up a website/facebook/twitter and so on. I’m so glad I did that as soon as I decided to treat writing as a business. When the unexpected GH final happened (do we ever expect these things?), I didn’t have to scramble to create it all. I don’t believe it’s vanity to set up your online presence early — I think it’s a requirement these days.

    Looking forward to meeting you in Anaheim!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Hi Deborah, thanks for coming by! I’m an IT type too and definitely see the value in technology. :) But MAN is HTML coding hard! I even took a class and I still struggle to get my website the way I want it…Can’t wait for Anaheim either. So excited!

  14. Tammy Baumann says:

    Hi Kat,

    Nice post! And boy you’re right. I didn’t have a webpage so I quickly put up something temporary until wonderful Ruby Liz helps me design one in the next couple of weeks. (I told Liz I’d take one exactly like the Rubies, but weirdly, she said no. ;0)

    I had a Twitter account and think I’m up to 41 tweets now! (I was at like 8 tweets when I became a finalist so I’m calling this progress!) Bria was part of our chapter for a while and she warned us all, but I didn’t heed her good advice. Now I’m paying the price. But it’s a good price and I’m loving it and loving meeting all sorts of new people.

    Can’t wait to read your book and good luck in Anaheim!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      The Rubies site is AWESOME – I don’t blame you for asking Liz to duplicate it for you. ;) Meeting people through this process is my favorite thing about it. Okay, the money is nice too. LOL Thanks for the good wishes and for coming by Tammy!

  15. Magdalen says:

    Kat — You’re a shining example to all of us, both for what to do to prepare for success, and for how to stay delightfully humble after you get there!

    Congratulations on all those years preparing to be an overnight success.

    Looking forward to pointing at your books, saying, “I’ve met her!”

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      LOL! Yeah, I’d like to know which night of the twenty years I’ve been writing was the one I became an “overnight” success. :) Thanks for coming by and leaving such a nice comment Magdalen!

  16. What am I nodding over? Have a web presence, have a web presence, have a web presence. It doesn’t have to be a site. It can be a free blog, but have a presence and a way people can contact you. Do most agents go trolling for clients? No, in all honest, but you never know when one might. It happened to me before I finaled in the GH and it happened again afterwards. I didn’t sign with either, but you never know.

    And I hear you on that second book. I had a vague idea and I pitched it over the phone (badly) when I got the offer on the first book. And that second book played with my head and took far too long to write. Be ready for that.

    I don’t see anything on the rest of this great post I disagree with. It’s all excellent advice.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Thanks Ashlyn! I groaned when I read that about pitching badly over the phone – that JUST happened to me. :) Fortunately my editor has a sense of humor and when I said – “Obviously I’m not good at verbally talking up my book” she just said – “That’s what I’m here for.” How lucky am I?? I appreciate you stopping by to comment.

  17. I had a web presence, only, um, not under my pen name. Had to scramble to set that up after the GH final call. So yeah, you’re right. :)

    I’m always impressed with people who can implement five year plans. I make plans… and then I realize a few months in I didn’t account for X, so I ponder and I plot and I make a new plan… and then life intervenes and I have to overhaul the whole thing and start all over again.

    You’ve had an amazing ride so far, and I suspect a well deserved one! I look forward to reading The Divorce Deal, and many more to come.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Shh – don’t tell Bria, but I had to redo my five year plan. :) I had no idea what things would look like once I sold and oddly enough, even when you get a contract, life doesn’t cooperate like we’d all hope. So there’s nothing wrong with a plan overhaul as long as you’re still mostly on track. Thanks for coming by Talia.

  18. Kelley Bowen says:


    My organizational skills are nil. Haphazard doesn’t cover it. One of my goals beginning in September (when both my kids are in school at least 3/days a week) is to implement a plan (I was thinking one year but maybe I can do five…lol!) I’ll have to bookmark your post because your advice is excellent.

    Thanks to you and Cynthia for a great post. Good luck with THE DIVORCE DEAL…I will definitely check it out.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Hi Kelley! Kids in school is a good thing. :) You’re on the right track if you’re thinking about the plan now. Good luck and get lots written! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you’ll like my debut book.

  19. Hi Kat,

    Great blog. So informative and…uh…organized. While I was reading it, a thought kept sweeping through my mind: I’ll bet her editor wishes all her authors were this organized. congratulations on your GH final.

  20. Excellent post, Kat! I’m sharing it with other writer friends, because I think it’s terrific advice.

    I’m glad I had a Web presence before the GH call, because you’re right — there is NO time to set all that up. I didn’t have an official website — just a blog on which I wrote about writing — but I did have agents/publishers/etc contact me there after the GH call, so I’m really glad it was under way. Plus a few years of Twitter, where I’d met a lot of writers already, and it was great to make new GH friends there, too.

    But there’s still more I can do, and your advice about the second and third books is terrific.

    Um … I’d better get to my keyboard!

    Looking forward to meeting you in Anaheim. I’m completely hooked by your blurb for The Divorce Deal. … Can’t wait ’til it comes out!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Thanks for coming by Laurie! You make a good point about meeting other writers on twitter – it’s not just about connecting with readers, is it?? I’m looking forward to meeting you too and I really hope you like the book. It’s weird to think about people reading it…

  21. Wow. This is such great information, Kat! Can you possibly steer me in the direction of starting a 5-year-plan? Or a 1-year-plan? :-)

    I’m glad too that I already have an online presence. Happy to share a surname w/ you!


    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Of course! I’d love to help – I’ll email you something later. :) Happy to share a surname with you too and can’t wait to hang out in Anaheim!

  22. Great advice, Kat, but since you asked. . . I’m not sure about the five-year-plan. I’ve been at this (lots) more than five years. If I had stuck to the five-year-plan model, I might have given up long ago.
    I prefer what I’d call a one-year plan: what contests do I want to enter for feedback leading up to the Golden Heart? what are the deadlines? One year I got a full request from an early contest and never entered the GH at all (in fact, that one’s still under consideration). The next year, well, let’s say things didn’t go so well, either on the contest circuit or with the GH.
    The point is that by the time I did or didn’t final in the GH any given year, I was half-way through the next book and had a plan in motion to get it ready for the next year’s GH. This kind of a rolling one-year plan worked well for me until I signed with an agent and quit the contest circuit. Just another possibility.

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Nancy, I think the important thing is to find what works for you! If you’ve done that – awesome. A five-year plan isn’t for everyone, just like plotting isn’t for everyone. :) Thanks for coming by and sharing your experience.

  23. God bless you, Kat. I wish I had thought that far ahead. It JUST occurred to me two weeks ago that someone was actually going to read my stuff. Like someone who wasn’t one of my long-suffering critique partners. Like that was kind of the point of getting published.

    It’s a wonder I get around. Truly. :)

    Huge congrats on finaling and your sale!! Can’t wait to meet you in Anaheim!!

    • Kat Cantrell says:

      Oh, my gosh, you’re not kidding – I thought far enough ahead to plan this writing thing like a career, but not to the point of internalizing that people were going to READ MY BOOKS. I’ll probably drink a lot on release day. LOL Thanks for the comments and can’t wait to meet you either! It’ll be cool to put faces with names. :)

  24. M. Kassel says:

    Thank you for the insights, Kat. It sounds like you have excellent organizational skills and the goal setting thing was very smart.

    You’re right about goal setting, but it’s a scary thing to do sometimes. There’s that mean little voice that pops up sometimes and says, “Why bother with goals? No one’s going to want to read your book.” It’s hard to push those doubts aside and push forward, especially when the rejections are rolling in, but keeping an eye on the prize helps!

  25. Amanda Brice says:

    Kat!!!!! I can’t believe I missed this post! (Well, actually I can. Friday was crazy-busy.)

    But even though I’m late, I just wanted to pop by and congratulate AGAIN for all your amazing success this year. You’ve worked hard and totally deserve it! And I can’t wait to read your books!!!!!

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