Monday, January 9, 2012

Author Naomi Rawlings on Genesis

I had the pleasure of meeting Naomi Rawlings during “contest season” last year. We both semi-finaled in the historical romance category of Genesis, and Naomi went on to finals! Along her journey she was quick to catch the eye of an agent and sign a publishing contract before ACFW conference in September. Her first book, Sanctuary for a Lady, comes out in April. I am excited to have the opportunity to get some great tips on Genesis from such a successful lady!
Text Copyright: 2012 by Naomi Mason
Cover Art Copyright: 2012 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. 
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. 
All rights reserved. Trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited 
or its affiliated companies, used under license.

Naomi, thanks for stopping by the Alley! I loved reading your submission for the Genesis contest last year. And I am so excited to read it in “print”! Tell us a little more about your novel.

I don’t have an official copy of the blurb, but here’s an earlier version I was given. It should be pretty close to what appears on the back of the book.
Running to freedom, she found love . . .
The injured young woman that Michel Belanger finds in the woods is certainly an aristocrat, and in the midst of France’s bloody revolution, sheltering nobility merits a trip to the guillotine. Yet despite the risk, Michel knows he must bring the wounded girl to his cottage to heal.
Attacked by soldiers and left for dead, Isabelle de La Rouchecauld has lost everything. A duke’s daughter cannot hope for mercy in France, so escaping to England is her best chance of survival. The only thing more dangerous than staying would be falling in love with this gruff yet tender man of the land. Even if she sees, for the first time, how truly noble a heart can be . . .

Wow, sounds like a powerful story! So exciting to see more books coming out that are from different time periods and settings! So, most Genesis entrants have a tiny spark of hope that entering the contest will be a possible step towards their publishing dream. I am dying to know how entering Genesis and being a finalist, helped you along the path to publication?

Entering Genesis put my writing in front of some great judges. With my manuscript polished, my philosophy was to enter any competition where the finalist judges were editors or agents who I thought might be interested in my writing. That philosophy paid off, though not in the manner I was expecting with Genesis. A best-selling, popular author was one of my first round judges. She liked my opening so much that she sent my entry to her agent and then the judge told me to email her.
As you can imagine, I could hardly breathe when I got my judging sheet back. God worked everything out better than I ever expected, and I did end up signing with the agent, Natasha Kern. I also had an editor who judged a different competition request the first half of my ms. So Personally speaking, I did a lot better with entering contests than I ever did with querying or conferences, but some people do well with querying and others with networking at conferences. It works differently for different people.
What a great story of getting your stuff in front of an agent. Just one set of eyes is all it takes...and a really polished manuscript. We have a lot of readers out there that are preparing their entries for Genesis. How many revisions did you go through before you sent the entry to Genesis?

Oh goodness, a crazy, unbelievable amount. On the opening scene, probably about 15. My subsequent scene which was also included in my entry didn’t go through nearly that many revisions, maybe 4 or 5. I had a really hard time figuring out how to get the reader’s rooting for my heroine by the end of the second page and I went through endless revisions..
I looked, but I don’t have a copy of my original beginning (probably because it was so bad I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore). It went something like this, though I can’t be exact: “Isabelle Cerise de La Rouchecauld walked down the middle of the road, glancing at the forest and wondering if she should harbor in the trees’ thick branches.”
By the time I finished my revisions, I had an opening that I loved:
“Silence surrounded her, an eerie music more haunting than that of any chamber players. It soaked into her pores and chilled her blood.
Isabelle surveyed the shadowed trees of northern France, so different from the wide fields she’d grown up with in Burgandie. The woods lay still, most animals caught in winter’s slumber. Her breathing and the crunch of her shoes against the road formed the only human sounds amid acres of forest and earth and animals—or the only human sounds of which she knew.
She clutched her cloak and glanced behind her. Did someone follow?”
I wish I could say I came up with that the first time I sat down at my computer. But I didn’t. It took hours of hard work and banging my head against the computer screen until I found something that worked the way I wanted it to. And it works that way for most people. Occasionally a writer might sit down and come up with the perfect start to a story, but more often than not, a good beginning means hours of hard work. So if your slogging through your first 15 pages right now, don’t give up! I understand how hard it is, but the effort might well be worth the pain. 

Great advice. I don't even think I can count the amount of times I've changed the beginning to my story...and I am sure I will still tweak it up until I hit send. What was the most helpful thing you did to prepare your submission?

Two things. First, have one or two awesome crit partners who don’t mind reading and rereading a chapter until you get it perfect. For every time I revised my opening, my poor crit partners, Melissa Jagears and Sally Chambers, reread it. They deserved to final just for putting up with me.
Second, I entered the ms in the Great Expectations RWA contest. Genesis was the second contest I ever entered, Great Expectations was the first. I would have never finaled in Genesis had I not gotten and applied the judges’ feedback from Great Expectations. In the draft I sent to Great Expectations, I had the heroine walking in the woods for seven or eight pages before the soldiers showed up and attacked her. Way too long!!! In the Genesis version, I had the soldiers show up on page three. But I never would have known to move the action up without getting the judging feedback from Great Expectations.
So before entering Genesis, I would advise contestants to get some professional advice on the manuscript. Whether it comes from a contest, a paid critique, or a published friend returning a favor, you’d do well to get some advice beyond your crit partners.
It's tough sometimes to take the criticism, but it pays off in the end!

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom! I am looking forward to applying your advice to my own submissions. Can't wait to read the rest of your novel!

Thanks Angie, I enjoyed being here. This is my first ever blog interview, so I find the whole thing a little intimidating!

My pleasure! I am sure you have many readers who thank you for such great advice. Looking forward to reading more from you, Naomi!!
Visit Naomi at:
 Angie Dicken first began writing fiction as a creative outlet during the monotonous days of diapers and temper tantrums. She is passionate to impress God's love on women regardless of their background or belief. This desire serves as a catalyst for Angie's fiction, which weaves salvation and grace themes across cultures. She is an ACFW member and CEO of a family of six.


Jeanne Takenaka said...

Naomi, you interview well. :) I loved reading your answers to the questions. Thanks for sharing some things you've learned along your writing path. I haven't entered many contests, but I can see the value of doing so.

Thanks for sharing your first draft and your current draft of your opening. The difference between the two is beautiful. I learned even just reading the revised opening. :)

I'll be looking for this book. :)

Joanne Sher said...

Great interview - and fabulous advice and information! Naomi - if this was your first, i wouldn't worry too much about your second (and so on). Great stuff!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks Jeanne. I'm glad seeing the difference between the openings was helpful to you.

Yes, I would advise entering contests (Casey did a great post on deciding which ones to enter last week). But I also advise waiting until your opening is as good as you can get it on your own. Do the majority of the hard work yourself, and then go to others for feedback.

And if it's helpful, I generally start my books by plunking my readers straight inside my character's world. Then I write a sentence or series of sentences that causes the reader to ask "Why?" And keep reading until they find out. But that's just me. Different writers find success with other techniques.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Joanne!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Oh, and I should probably thank Angie for having me today. Thanks Angie!!!

Preparing to enter your ms in a contest, especially one as big as Genesis, can be so nerve-wracking. I hope I can be of help to your readers. I think the key to doing well boils down to hard work and learning about the craft of writing, specifically the craft of writing beginnings--which is, in my opinion, the hardest part of a book to write.

Casey said...

Since I am looking to enter the Genesis this year, your post was invalauble to me, Naomi, thank you! I especially connected with what you said about your opening section. My first story I had to cut several opening pages and by the time I've gotten to this fourth one, I think I might have nailed the opening right from the action. Now I need to perfect it. ;-)

I'm excited for your novel, WHAT an opening, so gripping! And congratulations on Natasha Kern. :)

Pepper said...

GREAT post, Naomi and your book cover is BEAUTIFUL!
oh wow, I'm so excited for you!!

Not sure whether I'll trouble the waters of the Genesis again this year, but we'll see.

Life is happening and kind of breaking in on the writing time right now :-)

Thanks for the fabulous info!!

Melissa Jagears said...

It was fun to watch your opening grow or well, condense, actually.

Are you going to send me something 15 times again in the next month so that I "deserve to final" in the Genesis again? :)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Casey, isn't it fun to see how your beginnings morph from something that's okay to something that's awesome? Sitting back and knowing you wrote something good makes it work all the hard work, IMHO.

I hope you do well in Genesis this year! And I'm glad you like my opening. I'm hoping other people will like it as well, but then, I'm a little biased. :)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Pepper, didn't you final in every category imaginable last year? (Okay, well maybe just two of them, but still). YOU should have been the one doing this post, not me!

Anyway, when I entered contests, I did so based on whether I thought finaling in the contest would help me get published. Of course, I had no guarantee I'd final in anything. But if I thought my ms had a chance of getting published if it got put in front of a certain editor, I submitted it.

I hope that helps you decide. And I hope you can get back to writing soon, but family's always more important than a book (in my opinion, at least).

Naomi Rawlings said...

No Melissa, it's YOUR turn to send me something 15 times so that you can final. :)

Melissa Jagears said...

Hmmm, that would probably make more sense.

Debra E. Marvin said...

Hearing Naomi's story again through this interview is a delight. I can't wait to read her debut. (And I think it's time I watch Anthony Andrews in the Scarlet Pimpernel again, too)

Angie, I hope this is the year of the Genesis Final for you!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks Deb, and yes, I'm rooting for Angie . . . and Melissa . . . and Casey. LOL. Is it bad that I want EVERYONE to final?

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thanks, this was very helpful. Interesting about your revision number 15...I went to a revision seminar by a multi-award winning author and she goes through 15 for all her books. And she ends up with about a 300K book she cuts from. So maybe there's wisdom in your number there. I love your opening lines and can't wait to read your book.

Mary Vee Writer said...

The best way for me to learn is to see a great example. You have done this for us Naomi. Thank you so much for showing us the first and last-the initial and the polished. Wow.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great interview, ladies! And Naomi, your story is absolutely inspiring. Congratulations on your debut novel!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Congratulations on your first sale, Naomi. Lovely cover!

I'm hoping to enter the Genesis this year too!

Sherri Shackelford said...

Awesome questions AND answers.

Naomi, I liked your advice about entering smaller contests to get feedback before entering larger contests.

Can't wait to read your WHOLE book :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Great interview and advice! Naomi, thanks so much for visiting The Alley today. Your story is inspiring and a good reminder that God has a plan for all of us, even if it comes about in a less traditional way :)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks Julia! Yes, authors do go through a large number of revisions, at least three of which take place after turning a manuscript into a publisher. I'm sure the author you heard has really awesome books after putting so much work into them.

Naomi Rawlings said...

I'm glad you found the examples encouraging, Mary. I like examples too, and it's fun to compare sometimes, isn't it?

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks Sarah. I'm looking forward to seeing my book in print, but parts of the experience are a bit overwhelming. Mostly, I try concentrate on writing new material, that's what I find the most joy in, at least.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Good luck in Genesis Susan Anne! Or maybe I should say "Work hard" AND "Good luck." :-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Sherri!!!!!! How's my fellow Genesis finalist from last year . . . who has her Genesis book coming out two months after mine?

I can't wait to read your book either. The sample I read of your Genesis entry left your poor hero in quite a lurch, and I want to know what happens next!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Cindy, yes, my agent story is rather unique, and there's a little more to it than what I shared. But it shows yet again how God has a plan for each of us.

My philosophy was to write the best story I could, then show it to as many people as possible (mainly via contests) and see what God did. And God did a lot! But it started with learning to write well and working hard.