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Elaine Levine first dreamed of becoming a published author while she was still in college. As a new wife and mother, she wanted nothing more than to build a challenging career she could do from home while she raised her kids. Two grandchildren, a programming career, and 25 years later, that dream came true with the publication of her first book, RACHEL AND THE HIRED GUN. Currently, she’s serving a term as President of her local RWA Chapter, Colorado Romance Writers, where she hopes to help her chaptermates achieve their writing goals in far less time. You can visit her website at www.elainelevine.com.
Welcome to Beyond the Books, Elaine. Can you tell us whether you are published for the first time or multi-published? Can you give us the title(s) of your book(s)?
Thanks so much for having me here! I’m a first time author. My debut novel is titled, RACHEL AND THE HIRED GUN.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
That dreadful piece of fiction was called, LOVE’S HIDDEN HONOR. It was a romance about American Revolutionary War spies. It was my first serious attempt at fiction and was riddled with all the errors a beginner can make.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
I probably had 30 agent rejections and 5 editor rejections in a period spanning 15 years.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
It’s hard not to take those rejections personally–even now. I always have to remind myself that this is a business. Yes, it’s my creative work of fiction, but it’s also a paycheck to an editor, a copy editor, a blurb writer, a cover art team, a sales rep. It’s building rent and utilities and all the overhead costs involved in running a publishing business. It can’t just be the right book for me, it has to be something that someone else will want to read because it has a huge infrastructure to fund.
Though rejection doesn’t get any easier the more I experience it, I try to remember that my work is a piece in a puzzle that’s much bigger than me.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
Kensington was my first publisher (and my only publisher at the moment). My story, then titled, SAGER’S PASSION, won the 2007 Golden Heart award in the Long Historical category. I got to pitch it to Kate Duffy at Nationals that year. Kate asked for some edits. A few months later, she liked the changes I made and made an offer for the story in February of 2008.
If Kate hadn’t taken it, I would have continued searching for one of the larger publishing houses–not an easy thing to do without an agent. The Golden Heart final and subsequent win gave me the confidence to know the story was viable. Had I not been able to sell it, I would have repeated the cycle… Set that book aside. Write something else. Put the new work on the contest circuit. Look for agents at the same time as editors (this isn’t something agents want you to do, by the way!). Write something else. Repeat.
The trick is to NEVER GIVE UP. Every step is a step forward, even if it doesn’t seem so at the time.
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
Honestly, it felt strange. For so very long, my entire mental process was tied up with finding a path to publication. Every spare brain cell was put to work improving my fiction, finding ways to network with other authors and industry professionals, searching for the key to that locked door.
Then, suddenly, the inner dialog telling me I wasn’t what I wanted to be had ended. I didn’t need to think that way anymore–except I will always continue to work on improving my fiction.
To celebrate, my husband and I took our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter out for Chinese food at our favorite restaurant. For years, when the fortune cookies came, my husband always let me pick mine first. My hand would hover over each one, as if I could tell which held the fortune I dreamed of–“You will soon be a published author!” That night, I realized I didn’t need to do that anymore. And would you believe, the fortune in my cookie (and only my cookie at the table) was blank? I didn’t need one anymore–the fortune had come true!
What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
Promo is a tough nut to crack. It took me the better part of a year studying the various approaches and options. My editor said that there was little I could do to actually affect my book’s success (beyond, of course, writing the best book I could). Kensington has fantastic distribution. They get their authors into Walmart, Target, grocery stores, as well as all the independent and chain bookstores. Plus, they give readers a price break on their debut authors, selling the first two books for $3.99 and $4.99 respectively. Price and distribution are the best things for a new author.
But I did do some things, such as build a new website and set up a MySpace page. I started a monthly html newsletter for the published authors in my local RWA chapter. And I found this wonderful site that so generously conducts these interviews!
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
Absolutely not! I adore Kate. I’ve learned so much about writing and the publishing industry from her. And I’ve had a wonderful experience at Kensington. I’m not sure how I got so lucky!
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
My first contract was a two book deal. My editor has the second book, tentatively titled, AUDREY AND THE VIRGINIAN. I’m hard at work on the option book…we’ll see what the future brings!
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
That’s an excellent question. I should have studied the craft of writing more thoroughly. I should have listened to the lectures recorded each year at National. I should have found my way to my own authorial voice much sooner. It doesn’t take an intelligent person 25 years to see her book on the shelves at stores–I made things harder for myself than they needed to be.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
I think regaining my focus so that I could write again. Without good stories, an author’s out of the game. That has to come first–always!
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
I would have loved to have been a dog trainer. Or a member of the Coast Guard. Or an archeologist. Or any of a dozen other fun things!
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
Being a published author is a dream come true. It’s without a doubt the best profession for me right now. I’m going to relax and enjoy the ride!
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully slimmer! And multi-published with lots of happy readers clamoring for more stories!
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Study. Write. Learn. Write. Practice. Write. Network. Write. Listen. Write. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Never give up.