Thursday, November 13, 2008

Author Lillie Ammann

Today we have author Lillie Ammann visiting Straight From Hel. I’m excited that she agreed to stop by because she’s written a wonderful romantic cozy and she has such an interesting story to tell about her road to publication -- plus, she’s a fellow Texan. Her book, Dream or Destiny, tells the story of two people who meet under extreme circumstances and should be suspicious of each other, but are drawn together to try to solve a horrific murder. To have any chance of solving the crime, they have to work as a team and persevere, no matter what.

Persevere is exactly what Lillie had to do in order to see Dream or Destiny in print. And today she’s going to tell us how her own “dream and destiny” became a reality. I asked her to write about the path the manuscript took to becoming a book. She’s calling her story, “How Things Change -- Editing a Manuscript Ten Years Later.”

Welcome Lillie!

How Things Change -- Editing a Manuscript Ten Years Later

The road to publication for Dream or Destiny was a long one—more than ten years, in fact. For much of that time, publication seemed like a dream that, unlike Marilee’s nightmare, didn’t come true. Representation by an agent for two years resulted in nothing more than a stack of rejections. I put the manuscript away and tried to forget it, but the characters wouldn’t let me forget. They seemed to call out to me, demanding publication, claiming it as their destiny.

A few years later, I decided to try again. I revised the manuscript, then two published authors read and critiqued the story. I made a few more changes and submitted the manuscript again. A publisher accepted the book, and I signed a publishing contract. Before the book went into production, however, the publishing company changed its business model to focus heavily on erotica, and my romantic mystery didn’t fit. Some readers would probably buy Dream or Destiny because they expected erotica and would be disappointed at the lack of explicit sex. Others who might enjoy the story would never find it because they wouldn’t shop on a Web site primarily selling erotica. The publishing company readily agreed to release me from the contract, and the manuscript went back into a drawer—actually a corner of my hard drive.

Still those characters clamored to be published. I submitted the manuscript to GASLight Publishing, LLC owned by Grace Anne and Ken Schaefer. The Schaefers accepted the manuscript but publication was delayed by some health challenges and other obstacles.

By this time, I realized the manuscript needed to be edited again. I wrote a post on my blog asking for first readers. Several people, including Helen, responded. I expected to have to make some changes, but some of the problems surprised me.

At one point in the story, Marilee received a threatening phone call when David was at her home. They reported the call to the police, saying they didn’t know who the caller was because the voice was disguised. When Helen read this scene, she asked, “Why didn’t they check caller ID?”

Caller ID? Of course, it’s ubiquitous now, but when I wrote the book ten years ago, it wasn’t common, at least not where I live. I had to revise the scene to account for the number not appearing on caller ID.

Helen made another suggestion that I had to consider seriously before I decided to make the change. I had neatly tied up all the loose ends in an epilogue, which Helen suggested seemed a little contrived. My editor and I discussed eliminating the epilogue … and suddenly I had an idea for two more books. Leaving some loose ends opened the door for me to tell Tess’ and Bonita’s stories in future books.

I learned two important lessons from this experience:
1) Things change. As writers, we need to pay close attention to changing technology and changing social mores. This is especially important when there is a lag between writing and publishing the book, but even if you’re working on a book steadily, some things, especially technology, can change even during the writing process.
2) Getting input from several different people provides different perspectives that can significantly improve the book. Most readers didn’t say anything about the epilogue, but Helen’s suggestion made the ending stronger and gave me ideas for other books.

I hope it doesn’t take you ten years to get a novel published. But if a few years pass from the time you finish a book until it’s published, read the manuscript again and look for outdated technology and social patterns.

Even if there’s no time gap, consider asking trusted readers to read your work and give you feedback. Don’t accept all the advice you get; after all, you are the author. But if someone gives you an idea that leads to two more books, jump on it.


Thank you so much Lillie! You can read reviews or a free excerpt as well as keep up with her blog tour schedule. Bookmark her schedule so you can follow her!

Before we open the Comments section so you can leave a message for Lillie or ask questions, let me tell you a little more about Lillie Ammann.

Lillie spent much of her life as the owner of an interior landscape company, planning to write “someday,” when she retired. A severe stroke was the wake-up call she needed She wrote fiction at night and ran her business by day for several years before she sold her company and started her new career as a freelance writer and editor. Dream or Destiny is her second novel. Her first, Stroke of Luck, a contemporary romance featuring a disabled hero, is available from the publisher as an e-book. Lillie and her husband Jack live in San Antonio, Texas. She writes and edits for businesses and authors, and she blogs at A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye.

Okay, the Comments section is open. Drop in and say “hi” to Lillie and ask questions. As you can tell by her post, she’s very open and willing to share.


  1. Helen,
    I'm delighted to be here and eager to answer questions from your readers.

  2. Lillie,

    Glad to see you here.

    You're story about how things change reminded me of a grade school story my neice wrote. She placed her character in the 1950s, but included cordless phones and laptop computers. My Mom and I had a good laugh (it's a tough house), and my neice learned about fact checking. I underlined all the facts she needed to check and she had a great time interviewing her grandmother about 'the olden days' before re-writing her story.

  3. What a great story Charlotte. I bet your mom also had a good time being interviewed.

    And thanks to Lillie for stopping by. Lillie has so much to say to writers -- definitely follow her on her tour everyone.

  4. Charlotte,
    Thanks for sharing that precious story about your niece. I'm sure a grade school student today can't imagine life without laptops and cell phones. :-)

  5. I admire your perserverence, Lillie. My first novel went through a similar evolution, and I was fortunate to have enlisted the help of two award-winning authors, whose advice set me on the right track. I've tried to pass on their advice and expand on it to help other fledglings by writing my advice column, Write On!

  6. Lillie, your story, all that you went through to get that book published is so inspiring. Makes me feel ashamed at the impatience I had trying to get my first book published - only took about a year - wow, you go! and thanks for sharing all that you learned along the way. Truly we as author have to stay abreast of changes in the industry. And your willingness to change and adapt and be open to candid criticism that is only for the betterment of your work is admirable. Way to go, Lillie, and I appreciate your sharing your inights from your literary journey.

  7. Congratulations on being tenacious and reaching your goals. I'm going through manuscript now that I wrote a few years ago, and I"m having to make changes based on rapidly changing technology. It's hard to keep up.

  8. Congrats, Lillie! It was a long hard road but you kept at it and succeeded! It only shows the importance of persistence and believing in your work.

  9. Jean,
    I commend you for passing on what you've learned to fledgling writers. So many have no idea how much perseverance is required.

    Thank you. Your novel getting published in a year is an example that every writer has a different experience. We can't compare ourselves to others--we both have the same end result though you followed a shorter, easier path.

    Good luck with that manuscript you're working on now. Catching those technology changes can be a challenge.

    You make a really good point. Writers have to believe in their own work--if we don't believe, why would anyone else.

  10. I wanted to ask you a question Lillie. Did you have a website and blog before you got published? Would you recommend as-yet-unpubbed writers have one or both before getting published?

  11. Helen,
    I would definitely recommend authors set up a blog and Web site as soon as they're thinking about getting published.

    My recommendation is to use WordPress as a platform so the site and blog are combined. I did that with own site recently and find it much more useful than having them separate. And it's very simple.

    I've used Publisher, FrontPage, and Dreamweaver for Web sites. WordPress is easier to use, and I think it produces a site that is both easier to navigate and more attractive (though someone who is a creative genius with HTML might create a prettier one in Dreamweaver).

    I just checked my site on the WayBack Machine. The first version appearing there is from March 2001, more than a year after Stroke of Luck was released. Of course, Web sites weren't as common or as important when I was first published. If I were starting out now, I would definitely put up a site while I was writing my first novel.

    There are two reasons I recommend writers start a site early: 1) Writing blog posts daily or weekly will improve writing. It's been said that a writer has to write a million words before crafting anything publishable. Blog posts can build toward those million words just like any other kind of writing. 2) The writer can be creating a following of potential buyers of the author's books long before there are any books to buy. It's possible readers can refer the writer to editors or agents, and it's even possible—though rare—that an editor or agent could find an aspiring writer through her blog.

    Very good question, Helen. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to get on my soapbox about Web sites for writers.

  12. I've been editing a book that I began writing about six years ago.
    I left it alone while I accrued some of the million words mentioned in the above comments.
    I've also moved house five times, and country once. Moving is bad for your time management, but great for fuelling ideas.
    A result of so much change in my life is that my book has to be edited thoroughly because I have changed so much. I have amend scenes that I keep so that they have the same narrative voice as those that were added more recently.

  13. Lordy, Melody-Jane, just cleaning house messes up my time-management. I've had to work around it -- house cleaning that is, I just don't do it. Not until the layer of dust is so thick our TV looks like a black and white.

    Having a book that stretches years from start to completion is interesting to study how the voice changes, though. And to test yourself to see if you can get back into that voice you started with.

    Thanks Melody-Jane.

  14. Melody-Jane,
    Good luck with your six-year-old editing project. It sounds like you're doing what you need to do.

    Other than college, I've lived in only two houses my entire life: the farmhouse I grew up in and the house I moved into with my husband when we married 41+ years ago. Just the thought of moving about once a year gives me palpitations. :-)


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