Saturday, May 12, 2012

Thoughts from Stacy Holmes, Editor of Honky Tonk Hearts series.

First, let me say Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, grandmothers, aunts, caregivers and really any female who influences the lives of children both young and old.  My mom read a lot and that of course is where I get my love of books.  We’ve branched out on our choices of topics and genres, but it is still something we connect with today.

I’d also like to start by thanking Vonnie and the Roses of the Prose for inviting me over today.  The only problem is that Vonnie didn’t give me interview questions; instead, she gave me almost free reign to write about any number of things.  Hmm, I wonder if she realized how chatty I can be.

One thing Vonnie did mentioned caught my eye though.  She made reference to a ‘sweet list’ as in, how do you get on the sweet list, whether a series sweet list or an editor’s sweet list.   Well, it’s easier than you think…if you are willing to put in the work.  Simply put, do your homework.

Since it’s nearly Mother’s Day, let’s go back to a childhood memory.  You know how your mother always asked, “Have you done your homework?”…and somehow she could tell from the look on your face if you had or not?  Well, an editor has that same ability, we can tell who’s done their homework and who hasn’t, and that goes a long way to your chance to make the sweet list.

Let’s start from the beginning:  Homework…studying…study your craft. 

Take the time to read books from the genre you want to write and to read various books on writing. I say various because not all writing books work for all writers.  There are many good ones out there, but you need to find the ones that speak to you, that you can relate to and understand in a way that makes sense to you.  For some, that means more technical books on grammar etc., while for others, a more biographical outline from an author’s point of view works better.  But the more you read, the more you pay attention and find what you like and don’t like, and the more you end up finding your own voice.

The next step is to write, and just keep on writing.  Every story, every project, every trial and error, every critique or rejection teaches you more and more.  This includes finishing a story.  Why I say this is that a lot of writers work so hard polishing and perfecting the first three chapters in overexcitement to submit something.  The problem here is that stories have these funny ways of going off track, of changing, growing, dropping off here and overcompensating there as you write that first or even second draft.  But by doing this, you are cheating yourself, and your story. 

You see, you really never know if a story is going to work unless you write the whole thing. Only then can you see the full scope and any holes that need filling.  A story can take so many twists and turns along the way, how will you truly know all the story can be until you discover each thread, each path that takes you to the happy ever after?  Not to mention all you learn about the craft and yourself along the way.

Trust me, nothing worse than getting a great partial submitted and eagerly requesting the full manuscript only to have the rest of the story falls apart because it was rushed or not given as much attention as the first three chapters.

Now, once you do get your story written, that is the time to start the next part of your homework….studying publishers.  This is VERY important.  Read ALL the submission guidelines to the various publishing houses you are interested in.  It is hard to get on a romance editor’s sweet list when you submit a contemporary intrigue story that has lots of adventure, but no love story. Or you submit a story with no faith element to a Christian publishing house.  Believe me, it happens, more often than you would think. 

Along with this is studying their basic submission instructions, too.  For instance, if the submission guidelines say a manuscript should be double spaced, Times New Roman 12 font with one inch margins then that is what you should send in. 

I really don’t like to use the term “test” but in effect, that is a bit of what you could consider submission guidelines.  For the most part, they are there to keep all manuscript formats uniform, but at the same time, it is a small test to see if the author did their homework, the simplest of homework at that.  *Raising my hand* I admit it, if I request a manuscript, I often give a general format I prefer in my request email.  And if I get a manuscript back in a weird font with two inch margins etc, well, it definitely gives me pause. For I am then concerned that if the author didn’t follow my basic instructions for formatting, then how are they going to handle more in-depth edits?

Lastly, when you’ve done all your homework, the best way to get on my sweet list is to capture me, right from the 1st paragraph.  Put me right in the action from the get-go and you’ll get my attention pretty quick.

Take the Honky Tonk Hearts series that we’ve just launched at the Wild Rose Press.  How did these authors stand out amongst so many submissions? How did they get on my sweet list? For exactly the reasons above….they did their homework, they studied their craft and proofed their work, they read the submission guidelines for both the publishing house and the specific series, they asked questions to be sure of the HTH guidelines and they queried and submitted as requested….then they captured me, each and every one right from the get go. 

For example, take Vonnie’s submission, here’s how she started her story…

Win Fairchild leaned his low-rider onto the gravel parking lot of the Lonesome Steer on a cloud of dust and a tank of fumes. He eased his modified Harley to a stop next to the door of the honky tonk and stood. After more than five hundred miles of bone-jarring road, Win stretched, trying to work the kinks from his body.

 A couple came barreling out of the bar, startling Win who pivoted to nod in greeting. The man charging ahead, red-faced with clenched fists, was clearly pissed. The woman behind him carried her own dose of attitude on shoulders muscled from hard work or hours spent in a gym.

“I’m tired of you huntin’ me down, Evie, embarrassin’ me in front of my buddies. You act more like my wife than my sister.”

“And you act more like an irresponsible child than my older brother. Grow up. I need help at the ranch.” She planted her hands on jean-clad hips. “Dooley Caldwell, don’t you walk away from me while I’m talking to you!” Her brother raised an offensive finger over his head and kept striding toward a Jeep.

The woman swept her eyes toward Win, as if she suddenly realized he stood next to her, taking in the heated exchange.


Violet eyes that tugged him into their depths.

His dust-covered tongue rolled into a tight knot.

“Well, what the hell are you staring at?”

Good God, her eyes were like magnets. “Those beautiful eyes of yours.” Win winced at the lack of polish in his remark. Damn if he didn’t sound like an awkward teenager.

The dark-haired woman blinked those mesmerizing eyes and then jerked her pointy chin to the helmet under his arm. “Hunh. Just what the world needs, Don Juan on a Harley.” She turned on her heel and marched toward an old red Nova, the paint splotchy and faded.

Win pursed his lips and exhaled a long breath. He did like a spirited woman. With her violet eyes, nine feet of attitude crammed into a petite frame and a make-his-palms-itch-to-touch behind, she was one fine package.

To his surprise and amusement, she crawled head first through the open window of her car, that world-class ass shimmying as she wiggled her way onto her driver’s seat. What a sight. He shifted his stance to accommodate his body’s reaction.

Her car door must be broken, and he briefly wondered why her brother didn’t fix it for her. Just then the Wrangler eased to a stop in front of Win.

“Stop starin’ at my sister.” Dooley Caldwell peeled out leaving Win in a shower of dust and gravel.

His gaze slid to Evie backing her rusty car away from the Lonesome Steer. He shook his head, hoping to erase the whirlwind sensation one encounter with the feminine dynamo created. Maybe moving here held more possibilities than he planned.

In her synopsis, included within the body of the email--as instructed--she gave me a man on a Harley, a wounded Vet /cowboy, and a heroine with a saucy attitude. Who could resist?

Here is the Blurb for Those Violet Eyes --

Evie Caldwell hoards every penny for her escape from the servitude life created by a worthless brother and the endless work on a ranch that will never be hers. The last thing she wants is a muscled man with a macho Marine attitude complicating her life. But, oh, how that man can make her insides do the twitchy thing.

Wounded vet, Win Fairchild, returns to Texas to heal, find a piece of his soul and open a ranch for amputee children. Finding someone to love was not on his agenda. Nor was dealing with a wildcat, until she captures his heart with those violet eyes.

But now that he knows what he wants, can Win convince Evie to stay in Texas—and his bed?

The series was fairly open for setting so long as one pivotal scene took place at the Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk, so I was looking to see the various ways authors interpreted this.  And no, not every submission contracted was perfect from the start and not all were from established authors.  I asked for various revisions from a number of them before contracting.

When I asked for revisions, each author did her homework yet again. I saw the effort from each one, that strive to be the best they could and create the best story they could. Each author was open and willing to work to bring out the most in their stories and the series, and that also reflected highly with me.

Vonnie here to share an example: Near the end of my story, I mentioned, in Evie’s point of view, a rough night Win had. Dreams of the day his Humvee ran over an IED had him trashing and crying out in his sleep. Stacy said she thought it would be stronger if I wrote this scene in Win’s pov. She wanted the dream told in detail.

My stomach tensed. How…how was I to do that? How could I write such a detailed scene with any authority? My son’s best friend is a Colonel in the Green Berets. I emailed him, asking how traumatic IED explosions were. What had he witnessed serving in Iraq? I used his reply as a basis for my new chapter. I’m comfortable with the realism portrayed by my efforts. But I will admit to some “OMG, I can’t do this” moments.

95% of the time I end my email notes to authors with “As always, any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know.”  And I mean this, every time to every one.  I’m here to help, to guide and to bring out all a story can be and all an author has for that story.  

Uh, yeah, I did mention I can be chatty, didn’t I? But I hope, like a mother, I gave some advice that you can use…and like the mother I am, I wish only the best for each and every writer and a great, lose-yourself-in-the-story for every reader. 

And on that note, I have a special little something to give away today--a special Honky Tonk Hearts envelope filled with a Wild Rose Press coupon, Honky Tonk Hearts bookmark, magnet and other fun stuff from the series and authors.  I’ll be randomly picking a commenter from today’s post soooooooo, as always, any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them here or feel free to contact me at


Vonnie Davis said...

Stacy, thanks for being my guest today and helping me showcase the Honky Tonk Hearts series. I can't wait for the next story to come out. The first two, HONKY TONK MAN and NOTHING BUT TROUBLE were fantastic reads!

Margaret Tanner said...

Wow Stacy, a very informative post. The Honky Tonk series sounds like a real winner.Nice excerpt Vonnie.



Stacy D. Holmes, Editor said...

Thank you so much Vonnie. I reread the post and yep, and like I said, I can go on when I'm talking about writing and editing LOL. But what can I say, I love my work LOL

Jannine Gallant said...

A great post! What you're looking for in a manuscript is entirely reasonable, Stacy. Seriously, we should all be able to follow directions at this point in our lives. And I will say the changes you asked for in my manuscript made it much stronger. Thanks for that! Great opening scene, Vonnie. Can't wait to get my hands on this story!

Nancy Jardine said...

I take on board what you say, Stacy, about preparation and finishing before submission. As more of a pantser, I find it difficult to predict that all would traspire as per original synopsis. My synopses have been altered on completion of five novels I've, so far, written: the alterations done to ensure a match with the final draft.
Best wishes with Honky Tonks- they sound perfect for my summer reading programme (when I clear space on my busy kindle!)

Vonnie Davis said...

Margaret, thanks. Writing Win and Evie's story was a lot of fun. They had such wonderful chemistry as each battled their fears. Stacy poked and prodded until she got my best from me.

Vonnie Davis said...

Jannine, YES, we should all be able to follow directions and publisher's guidelines, but you'd be surprised at how some people think, "but if I make mine a little bit different, it'll stand out and attract their attention." NOT! Where we attract attention is in our error free submission with prose that shines and draws the reader into deep pov (my thinking, anyhow).

Vonnie Davis said...

Oh, Nancy, you'll have to read all the stories. You'll be surprised how we each took an idea--write a story around one pivotal scene at the Lonesome Steer--and come up with an infinite number of possibilities. After all, we all think differently and our creative bent whips us in various directions.

Brenda Whiteside said...

What a great post! I love it when editors tell it like it is and give some insight into the way the process goes. Plus a good bit on the submission process in general. Thanks, Stacy.

Christine Warner said...

Great information..thank you for taking the time to share all that you did.

And Vonnie...nice start to your story! Congrats!

Lynne Marshall said...

Wonderful information, and that's some mighty fine writing in the example, Ms. Vonnie!

Thanks so much, Stacy for taking time to explain for clearly how to find a spot on an editor's sweet list.

Happy Mother's Day to everyone!

Calisa Rhose said...

Hi Stacy and Vonnie! This is wonderful insight, Stacy. Thanks for telling us straight. I love that more and more editors are speaking out. I remember a time when editors were like this secret being. A know all, tell none type of apparition.

And I love Vonnie's beginning! I just bought the first two books and canna wait for hers!

I've already won your gift envelope elsewhere- loved everything in it- so don't enter me, please.

Mackenzie Crowne said...

Another 'gotcha' opening, Vonnie. Stacy, I'm not too proud to say I'm bummed I was too intimidated to answer the call for this series. From what I've read of it, it promises to be a blast. I've never written 'to' a conceptual story before and the idea scares the bejezzus out of me. I'm going to have to get over that.

Great post.

Stacy D. Holmes, Editor said...

Thanks Jannine.

Perfect example Nancy, exactly what I meant.

Thank you Brenda, Christine and Lynne!

LOL Calisa, you are so right. I admit, I used to think editors were these high and mighty all powerful being too, then I became one LOL and I'm still just me....meaning editors are human too, honest LOL. And though I appreciate professionalism from authors, at the same time, I want them to feel comfortable asking me anything. I enjoy nothing more than discussing their manuscript back and forth until we come up with solutions that work for the story not just me and not just the author. That is after all the whole point of edits, making their story the best it can be.

Stacy D. Holmes, Editor said...

Well, Mac, we are still looking for a few more good stories for the series, submissions haven't been closed yet (hint hint) and sometimes writing out of your comfort zone can produce interesting results.

Mona Risk said...

Thanks Stacey for a great 'how-to-do-it-right' rules of submission. I've been lurking on and off. Now reading a lot. May I add that when I read I highlight the good lines I like--or use a pencil, less and less as I try to concentrate on ebooks.

Love your writing, Vonnie, in blogs and in books.

Maeve said...

Great post! And I think of my editor as a "writer's guardian angel" so I always try to follow her suggestions. She never leads me astray. I am going to have to STOP reading all the great excerpts from this new series tho'. My reading budget isn't quite broke but it's getting severely bent. They all sound so great! :)

Stacy D. Holmes, Editor said...

Every bit helps Mona.

LOL Maeve...I like the way you see your editor!

LaVerne Clark said...

Wow guys! That was such a great post!

I loved the insight into what an editor looks for in each submission - and really - doing your homework couldn't be simpler could it? The easier we can make it for the editor to read our stories, the better for everyone involved, and hopefully, the higher the possibility of that much yearned for, "Yes."

Thanks for the sneak peek into TVE Stacy and Vonnie! But you guys are such teases!! You've just made the waiting for it even harder - waahhh! ;)
Oh - and I still get a giggle when I see IED :) Told my hubby the story and he roared with laughter - hehehe.

Happy Mother's Day ladies. I'm enjoying mine. Almost lunchtime here and I'm still in my PJ's!

Vonnie Davis said...

Ladies, thanks for all your comments.

Brenda, Stacy did a great job explaining things, didn't she?

Christine, thanks for your kind words regarding my opening.

Lynne, you're always so supportive in your comments. I'm pleased you liked the opening to TVE.

Cheery Calisa, thanks for stopping by and spreading your own brand of cheer with a complmentary word.

Vonnie Davis said...

Wow, I'm really behind with responses. Yikes!

Mac, writing to the parameters of a series was new for me, too. I set it as a personal challenge, so was extra pleased when Stacy found it worthy enough for the series.

Oh, Mona, your compliments means a lot. Truly. Thanks for stopping by.

But, Maeve, you need THOSE VIOLET EYES to read to Jasper. He'll like Lucky and the ice cream bowl.

Yes, easy mistake to make as you're typing along. Thank goodness we got that glaring error fixed. So glad your husband enjoyed my frantic fingered fiasco.

Stacy D. Holmes, Editor said...

Thanks LaVerne!

Congratulation to Christine Warner...winner of the Honky Tonk Hearts envelope giveaway.

And remember, everyone is entered into the big Honky Tonk Hearts prize pack (details here:

Thanks so much Vonnie for having me in for a visit!

Angela Drake said...

Wow! I wish I'd seen this at the posting time. Sorry, Vonnie. Stacy, I love your advice, your passion and your confidence in new authors. Thank you for your insights today.