Becoming a Published Author – Part 2

Hello Simona Ahrnstedt,

You were an active blogger at The Chic-Lit House (TheCrimeHouse’s cousin) before the site was put on hold. We think it is extremely exciting that your first novel, “Agreements,” has been published. Now we want to know more about how your road to becoming a published author looked like…

How long has it been since the day you sat down and wrote the first word until you had the novel in your hand?

I started writing in January 2007 and I received the first copy from the publisher in April 2010, so more than three years. During those three years I wrote almost every day, even when I was sick, on Christmas Eve and during vacations.

Had you tried to write another book before you wrote “Agreements”?

No, never a novel. I wrote erotic short stories during the nineties, columns and articles during the last few years and three romantic short stories for a Swedish magazine in 2009. For a long time I wanted to write but it was first when I had the idea to write a romance novel – my favorite genre – that everything fell into place.

How did you manage to get a publisher “on the hook?” Did it take many attempts?

Yes, I have been turned down by many publishers. I put a lot of effort on my cover letter and I read all advice on how to write it. Then I did the opposite of what some said… In the letter I described why I thought the Swedish book market was ready for the type of novel I had written – in the romance genre, which one of the largest literary genres in the U.S. and the rest of the English speaking world. I used specific examples, numbers and spiced it up with some humor and self-distance. A lot later I found out that it was the cover letter that even made them read my manuscript.

I also delivered my manuscript in person. I tried to be nice, I always said thank you, even when I was rejected. You never know when you will see these people again. Social competence and common sense is far more important than you think in an industry that revolves so much around feelings, intuition and cooperation. It never hurts to be nice!

You were an active blogger before you got a book contract, do you think it helped?

No, not the blogging, but I got plenty of contacts and friends by blogging and by reading other blogs. I asked an editor once if they ever checked out people’s blogs and she said no, they do not have the time. But I think it becomes more and more important to have a presence online. It is an excellent way of keeping track of the industry and meeting people with the same interests.

Do you have any tips to other aspiring authors who struggle to find a publisher?

Yes. Spend a lot of time on the cover letter. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. There are piles, meter after meter, with padded envelopes at the publishers’ offices, and they are swamped by manuscripts via email. Without a sensible cover letter the chances that an editor will even look at your manuscript decrease dramatically.

And then the beginning of your manuscript must be captivating. Put all your efforts and then some on the first page, the first chapter. If you have not caught the reader with your first thousand words it is likely that you will lose him or her for good. The competition is fierce – it has become even more competitive during the last few years I think. The publishers report an even higher quality of the manuscripts they receive.

Get outside help, from a professional teacher or coach, or take a class. It is fun and developing.

The last piece of advice, which I have borrowed from Hans-Olov Öberg at Kalla Kulor förlag; if you are passionate about something else – do that instead. (As Unni Drougge writes in her blog: if you are meant to become an author, then you cannot help it, it is like fighting diarrhea.)

Did you think about using a pen name instead of your real name?

In the beginning I did, since I am a psychologist and was concerned about how it was going to affect my work with clients. But then I chose to stand by my text – it is more important for me on a deeper lever. My novel is written for entertainment, written with the purpose to entertain. But I stand by it and I stand by the fact that I think literature is important first when it raises feelings with the reader.

I get really upset that people divide literature into segments where some are considered better. To evaluate others experiences of a text is in my opinion extremely snobby.

Do you have a favorite place where you write?

My manuscript was created in a kitchen. My family got used to seeing me there. Now I have a corner in the living room. I often visit cafés – preferably an old-fashioned one, e.g. ”Ritorno” or ”Vetekatten.” When I take the commuter train I write there. I take my laptop everywhere.

Finally, can you tell us about the comment your husband wrote about your book?

Yes, I had many (or well, at least 5-6) readers before the manuscript was accepted. They were nice and gave me nice quotes I could use when I “marketed” myself. I made a little folder that I sent with my manuscript. I received so many nice comments that I finally thought it was a bit too sweet and I did not want it to seem like I lacked humor. So I added a thing my husband had said. That quote apparently made the men at the marketing department of the publisher fall. And that was the quote that “everyone” remembered:

“No murders, just love and romance – I thought I was going to fall asleep.”

Petter Ahrnstedt, husband

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