Never Send Your MS to a Former Erotica-Only House!

I’ve been an oft-willing guinea pig for different adventures, events, experiences, and foods. I’ve sampled shark (gross!), swallowed two uncooked eggs for the Dare portion of the game (thank you, seltzer and Pepto for averting an unwanted revisit to keep from answering a question truthfully!), been arrested and jailed on self-defense protecting my unborn child (that jail stay I gave Casper his first lockup experience in JERSEY DOGS); lived two years in Gettysburg–yes, it’s one of the most active paranormal activity places in the U.S.–and enjoyed many adventures I’ll share over time. The journey I’m semi-proud to say: before I indie-published in 2018, it visited a house previously accepting smut. As it’d opened its doors to other genres, I was that guinea-pig-experiment-gone-spectacularly-wrong. I took my MS back, but not without a hell of a fight.

I can laugh about that episode five years hence come mid-2020. But during and the unreal months after, t’weren’t at all pretty. I almost tossed being a full-time writer, thinking I’d been a colossal flop in this business. How could I not’ve thought that: 60 rejections before said house. Some form. Some ghost. One, a polite “Gee, thanks for thinking of us, Missye, but your novel’s dialogue is a tad overwhelming.” (#WaitWhat? ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿคจ) I mean, a Pyrrhic victory‘s not all that it’s cracked up to be, that’s for sure. I found the house in the black. And broadening its reach past the typical Girls! Girls! Girls! fare, enter naive, giddy me. Gave JERSEY‘s partial (first 13 chapters) according to the Submittable directions, and I moved on.

Three days later, an email arrives they loved the offering, and could I send the full. Sure I do. And I again forgot about it.

A week in, I’m speaking with Ms. Publisher herself as I walk home from work. After the 90 minute conversation, in which I asked every question I could think of, remembered to ask, and asked on the fly, I make the long-awaited announcement to my family: I HAVE A BOOK CONTRACT!!!!!


I’ve arrived! Better than a journalism byline! Better than a hot scoop!

I. Am. IN!!!!

And to make that moment sweeter, another small house saw JERSEY‘s potential, loved it, but I let this publisher know I’d had another offer arrive at the same time.

Talk about adrenaline-fueled elation, wow. It was summer vacation, a fantastic kiss from my crush, Christmas morning, sleepaway camp, flying a hang-glider, the birth of my kids, and going on my first-ever crazy rollercoaster ride at the same time. To quote my son, I was like our cattle dog when everyone was home. Yeah, well, in my birthday month, too? Hell YEAH I was!

Instinct, although happy for me, began its objectionable tin cup banging against my conscience. That’s a sound you can’t ignore long.

I’m assigned the first of three editors, joined the then Yahoo list group, only to learn within two weeks of getting to work, a family member died in a car accident. We didn’t know it at the time it’d happened that it’d happened, as my husband had lost his phone. When we received word, I needed to be his support. The house gave me as much time I needed, which was sweet of them. During this, I’d filled out my cover art form details, and what did I want my web page on their site to read for my e-book purchase portal.

The first editor, clearly used to shaping XXX-rated MSs, didn’t know shorts of longer works–album song titles, book chapters, news and magazine articles, etc.–used quotation marks like dialogue. She incorrectly put every song in JERSEY in italics, which is strictly for longer works (books, albums, periodicals, etc.), and the van Gogh pantings references in quotes. Not only did I re-do her work, she declared she hated the McGuinness/Pedregon crew. After a quasi-heated exchange–I’m proud I kept my side civil, but can I help it if my pointing out the obvious and my editorial prowess excelled hers by time and experience?–she complained about me to the managing editor.

The cover art form submission? Returned to me, according to my notes and what they’d “put” together. “Cobbled” or “scrounged” would be more accurate to describe that effort I hated on sight.

Sigh. The honeymoon was clearly over.

Toldja so, Instincts chimed in.

Oh, shut up, I snapped back.

Editor #2, Ms. Managing Editor assigned me to–a single mom to a young teen, a FT double-major, working FT, and shaping five other books with mine. Tactfully, I queried how could she manage my MS with all on her plate, but she insisted she had it covered. Fortunately, I didn’t hold my breath.

That one fizzled over ellipses. Can you imagine? I listed what the Chicago Manual of Style said to do on this punctuation mark. She noted Ms. Publisher doesn’t want my brand of ellipses (dot-space-dot-space-dot) over hers. (dot-dot-dot). CMoS is my brand of ellipses now? Guess first thing Monday I’d better bug the University of Chicago’s Press for royalties I’m long due for. **smirk**

Managing Editor tells me, four months after signing, I’d be edited by Ms. Publisher–the Great and Powerful Oz–herself. By now, my instincts were ponding its tin cup on my emotional walls so hard they shot off sparks, so I wasn’t scared. Pissed, more like, but that comes later.

Ms. Great/Powerful asked why did I argue with Editor #1, so I told her. What was wrong with Editor #2, she wondered. Nothing, I explained–I just felt it unfair to me, my book, and her being a single mom, to be part of her obviously impossible workload. Ellipses issue aside, I had to bow out in good conscience.

This wouldn’t last, either. This issue was pettier: semi-colons. You know, these things? —->;<—-. That. Ms. Publisher called them ancient, the trend at the time were em-dashes. I’ve two questions, I said: what’s wrong with the semi-colon?

We need to follow the trend, she answered.

I thought we authors shouldn’t chase trends. Conferences, workshops, writing references preached that until they’re blue in the face, I countered. What’s different now?

No reply.

Then she declared Mitchell’s use of them in Gone With the Wind old-fashioned when I cited the Pulitzer Prize winning book–which sold copies in pace of The Holy Bible at one point, but that holds no bearing on this story :)–was loaded with them. Correctly used, too. Its Oscar-winning movie was eight decades old before James Cameron’s Titanic broke the record. Isn’t that saying something, I asked.

Ancient, was her curt, single reply.

After more tussling over word choices, fonts, and transit specifics of the NYC setting where the book is, that conversation in late January 2016 wasn’t as pleasant as the call six months prior. I felt out of sorts and emotionally and creatively handcuffed, albeit proud I defended myself and my work. Yet I was contracted, and scared green I’d lose creative control on a book I slaved to shape for a decade-plus. What could I do?

Sleep. That was in my control. Maybe what Einstein theorized about problems seemingly without a solution when awake would be solved in a sleep-dream state.

That theory better come through.

5:30am, Groundhog Day Eve, I’m bolted awake, but my instincts are sound asleep. This wasn’t working out, so I found an out without needing to hire an attorney I couldn’t afford to break my agreement: Argue my way out.

I got to work. Ms. Publisher insisted e-book platforms all used a universal format (true), so all chapters in mine would be centered. With it out now in indie pubbed status–and using Reedsy for drafting, Vellum for formatting and uploading–I asked could it be formatted in right-side heading justified. No, Ms. Publisher said. But other books in print and e-books did this; I sent three samples across three genres as proof. Why couldn’t this house do the same?

No answer. I went to sleep that night feeling tingly, like I’d done something heinously wrong.

Groundhog Day, 2016, 2pm, EST, this email awaited me–

“Dear Legal Name At the Time,
Regretfully, your contract has been rescinded. I find your argumentative nature and stances unconducive for my establishment. Attached please find 3c and 7a of the contract breeched by you, which is basis for our relationship to end.
I wish you the very best in your future publishing endeavors.
Ms. Publisher, Acme Publishing.”

That Pyrrhic victory delivered a punch I won’t soon forget.

I might’ve been free, but not long after, I felt SO lost. Was fighting for my first book’s life worth that much a hit?

Was she right–do I argue too much?

Isn’t it worth being a little imprisoned for the name-on-spine glory so many authors are after, that so many have achieved?

To be fair, I didn’t read and re-read the agreement’s fine print–I was too giddy for the acceptance to see or care what I was in for. So for that, I take responsibility. Even so . . . many questions ran through my mind if I did the right thing, but one bulldozed through-did I argue too much to make it in this business?–I still wrestle with today.

I drifted. I mourned. I cried. I just said the hell with it all, the world didn’t need my voice among the billions clamoring for the few eyes to find their stuff, love their stuff. I hated myself, hated writing, hated everything on which this industry stands for, is built on, hated nobody stood up for me then–and sometimes now. Even an author in my corner while shaping my first book, within the month of the contract dissolution, succumbed to complications relating to a car accident several years back. Already on the emotional and creative precipice before receiving this news, I fell in the abyss. My uncle gone in 2007 who encouraged me in my teens to keep writing. Losing the deal. Then her passing weeks later.

What. Was. The. Point?

I stayed at the chasm’s bottom and waited to creatively die.

An email for book covers came to my inbox, and curiosity drove me to the site despite my deep funk. Covers I perused were just silly. Laughable. Ghastly. ColorForms-Ain’t-Fun pictures suited for first-grader billboards than books. Hilarious in a bad way. Macabre. Ridiculous. Hideous. Head-scratchers. Psychotic. Boring. Or just plain dumb.

Then one appeared that made my heart jump and pump harder. Not to make a comparison, but it fits: it felt like when Elizabeth, while bearing John the Baptist when she heard Mary’s voice, Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb knowing his cousin Jesus was there with him. That’s how special this cover was–and still is.

The one showed a loner who seemed to know how I felt. How Logan, Casper, and Jay Vincent felt at some point in their series’ lives. Unsure. Scared. Alone. Vulnerable. Misunderstood. Mislabeled. Humbled. Proud. Scrappy. Untamed. Strong. A warrior.

Eventually, should I get a house to make this story a 2nd edition, the cover I have in mind will be very different. It’ll be, I hope, one I love as much as I do this one.

I snapped it up . . . and slowly got back to work.

Had I stayed with the house, I’d be six months out from either renegotiating terms or leaving altogether. In hindsight, I’m glad I ended the relationship, but I could’ve been more thoughtful and professional in my exit.

Just because a house expands from erotica doesn’t mean your MS(s) will fit, may fit, should fit, or the publisher will treat you with professionalism or fairly. Going through this experience showed I’m stronger than I thought, that if I don’t defend my work, who else will, and I need more refining before being traditionally published, if ever I am. It’s a good lesson. Finding my place for my baby is very much like dating–I need to grow and evolve, and kiss a few bushelfuls of toads before that prince(ess) comes along for the potential HEA. I’m still argumentative in general–my husband Pete and I had a spirited debate recently, now since resolved–but I’m more discerning which hills I’ll die on for my work or any topic. The house-to-be need to love my offerings as I do, see what I do, but be open to guide me and let me have my lead as I’m open-minded for theirs.

While the patience kills me softly in waiting, I’ll stay busy crafting shorts, haikus, flash, and of course, my two series’ books. A hefty imagination’s a great cure-all for all peeves IRT (that’s shorthand for “in real time” for those of you in #RioLinda! ๐Ÿ™‚ ) . . . so it’s time to get back to work.

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