Interview Transcripts

Marianne Stillings: Romantic Suspence with a NY Publisher 9/7/06

Event start time:

Thu Sep 07 19:03:20 2006

Event end time:

Thu Sep 07 21:12:16 2006

Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Hi, all.


This is our Professional Connection live interview.


Tonight we'll be visiting with Marianne Stillings.


Marianne Stillings has always loved mystery stories with a dash of romance ever since she picked up her first Mary Stewart and became hooked forever. With three books published through AvonHarperCollins, her next effort is The Darling Detectives trilogy, the first of which, Arousing Suspicions, will be released March 1, 2007


I'm particularly looking forward to chatting with her about her experience with AvonHarperCollins. That is one of the big NY publishing houses


and one of the few big romance publishers who is NOT Harlequin-Silhouette.

Marianne Stillings

I think I'm in the right place now?

Mary Rosenblum

Hey, welcome!

Marianne Stillings

Hi! So sorry for the time delay.

Mary Rosenblum

I get totally lost when I start dealing with Europe and Asia. There you can be an entire DAY off!


Well, we're ready to start. I got all my posts out of the way. Welcome, Marianne! We're all looking forward to chatting with you.

Marianne Stillings

I'm going to England and Scotland in the spring; that'll be confusing.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, how cool!

Marianne Stillings

I'm very happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me!

Mary Rosenblum

Let's're just about 13 hours ahead there.


And you're my neighbor, up in Washington. That is so cool! J


A tech writer for Boeing, no less.

Marianne Stillings

Yes - I live in Kent.


And yes - I'm a tech writer for Boeing. For about 22 years.

Mary Rosenblum

I know Kent well. I get lost there all the time! Ah, I have questions about that! But...


let's begin with the beginning. How did you get started writing fiction? (I love the ugly duckling story on your website!)

Marianne Stillings

The Ugly Duckling story is true and will remain in my heart forever.


I always wanted to be a writer but tech writing leaves a lot to be desired, emotionally .


I always loved Mary Stewart romantic suspense stories, and wanted to be like her.


So when I began reading more current romances (in about 1998), I thought I'd try writing them.

Mary Rosenblum

Super! My question is this...I know a number of SF writers who are technical writers as their day job


and I have always felt...and some of them to, too....that it's a handicap. That the writing is SO different in terms


of dry facts, that it hampers their fictional style. Has it been difficult for you to make that transition?

Marianne Stillings

In a nutshell, yes. Tech writing is SO different from creative writing.


that you think you're going to just step right into fiction


but you are wrong. I was wrong. Creative writing is vastly more difficult.


Ideas come from thin air, or wherever, and the plotting and creative process


takes a lot more faith and planning than simply knowing grammar and punctuation.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding! And romance seems to be the absolute antithesis! Way more than hard SF is!

Marianne Stillings

And romantic suspense is made more difficult by the fact that you have


two story arcs - one for the love story, and one for the mystery/suspense.


Two separate, yet intertwining stories. It's a lot to handle at one time.


With your romantic suspense, how do you focus (or divvy up) between the two? Is it 50-50 each genre intertwined? Or mostly one with a dash of the other? Does AvonHarperCollins have a preference?

Marianne Stillings

Personally, I try to divvy it up 60% romance and 40% suspense because at their heart (pardon the pun) these are romance novels.


Some editors prefer more of one than the other, but my publisher has no preference and my editor seems happy with the proportions I've chosen.

Mary Rosenblum

What are your stories like? Want to give us a capsule overview of what you're doing?

Marianne Stillings

I have 3 books out so far, and a 4th coming out in March.


They are all romantic suspense with humor. The first three are a trilogy


and the 4th begins a new trilogy, starring a character who appeared as a secondary player in my 2nd book.


i like to have a lot of fun when I write, so I focus on action and emotions as much as possible.


The 4th book - Arousing Suspicions - is about a detective assigned to a murder case


where a possible "witness" to the crimes is a psychic dream interpreter.


Of course, he doesn't believe she's for real, but he manages to get beyond that and fall in love with her anyway.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, so you've added a dash of the paranormal here? :-)

Marianne Stillings

The first 3 books took place in Port Henry, Washington (based on Port Townsend).


And the 2nd trilogy takes place in San Francisco.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, what lovely research opportunities! :-)

Marianne Stillings

Yes, there is a slight paranormal bent here, but not too much to qualify it as such.


I went to both places and took lots of notes. I hope readers will really feel the environment since I love both places very much. In Arousing Suspicions, I even have them attend a baseball game where the Mariners play the Giants.

Mary Rosenblum

Great local details.  How have you handled the romance in the trilogy? Does the romantic arc cover all three books, or do you feature a different romance in each book?

Marianne Stillings

No, each book is a stand alone romance. Secondary characters may be introduced, and may have a flirtation, but each book has a singular hero and heroine.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah, that makes more sense to me. So it's not structured like a mystery series with a single main POV?

Marianne Stillings

In Arousing Suspicions, the hero is named Nate Darling and the heroine is Tabitha March. I LOVE naming characters. It's like having hundred of puppies!

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding! I LOVE authors who have fun with names!


Tabitha March is a GREAT name!

Marianne Stillings

No, they're not like many mysteries with a continuing character. But I may write a series like that some day. I'd like to.


Is romantic suspense formula driven writing?

Marianne Stillings

Not really. I think each RS author puts her own stamp on her stories. Mine are action driven with lots of humor.


Yes, there has to be a certain amount of relationship stuff to make it a romance, but how it's all blended makes it unique to each author.


Some RS authors have very little romance in their stories, and some have very little suspense. I try to go for a solid combination of both.


Do you think it's possible to do a really great job with romantic suspense in a short story? Or is that too skimpy and it needs to be novel length?

Marianne Stillings

I think it can certainly be done. I've read some great short stories with both elements. I do think it takes a lot of planning, but a really good author can definitely pull it off.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, as a short story writer, mainly, I'm going to say you can do any genre as a short story...but as you say, it takes WORK to do mystery or romantic suspense.


Had to put my two cents worth in there.

Marianne Stillings

Writing, on any level, at any length, is hard work.


In fact, I think the shorter the word count, the more difficult it is.


Sort of like composing a poem; every word has to count. That takes not only talent, but planning, and lots of effort.


Did you sell the first as part of a trilogy, or did the publisher purchase one and later agree to 3? Your career seems to have flown if you started in 98.

Marianne Stillings

My first book was released just a bit over 2 years ago. I didn't begin writing in earnest


until about 2001. My kids were smaller, and then, there's the day job and all.


I sold the first book as a single contract.


Then I had an idea for two more books, to make the trilogy, and my editor liked it, so I got a 2 book contract.


The Darling Detective trilogy was sold based on the fact my editor LOVED the fact there were three brothers named Darling who are detectives.


The first story is about Nate, the SF detective.


The second story is about his older brother, Ethan, a former SFPD detective who is now a PI.

Marianne Stillings

And the 3rd book is about their younger sister Andie (who I changed from a brother to a sister) who is a newly minted SF detective.

Mary Rosenblum

Ah! Now I understand the trilogy with separate Main Characters. Great idea! :-)

builder guy

Did you interview real cops/detectives while researching?

Marianne Stillings

Thank you. All three characters appear in each other's books, but the central love story focuses solely on the main character for that story.


I have interviewed a couple of police officers, but mostly I've done a LOT of reading and research.


I didn't even know that SFPD detectives are not called Detective, but Inspector. I've had to learn about weapons.


And all kinds of terminology. I want it to be right.


How much detective research did you have to do in order to write these?

Mary Rosenblum

Lots, I take it! :-)

Marianne Stillings

I read three of John Douglas's books (he's the FBI agent who invented profiling.)


I read 4 books on stalking, 3 books on crime scene procedures, several other books on how detectives do their jobs.


I now know enough to know when TV shows are waaaaaay off base (grin).

Mary Rosenblum

Which is why I always tell novice NOT use TV as research!

Marianne Stillings

NEVER use TV as research unless you're watching a documentary, and even then...


CSI and all it's ilk, while fascinating, is so off base, that lawyers who now seat juries ask potential juror


if they watch the show, because CSI has so negatively impacted what jurors expect to see in terms of evidence. My best friend


is a criminal attorney, and she said its appalling how many criminals get off because the jury was expecting


CSI quality evidence, when most of the time, in the real world, it never comes close.

Mary Rosenblum



How many pages are in your novels?

Marianne Stillings

My books run about 400 manuscript pages which equal a printed book of about 375 pages.

Mary Rosenblum

About 90,000 words?

Marianne Stillings

In word count translation, that's about 100,000 words. Page count can vary depending on font size, so the number of pages can be misleading.

Mary Rosenblum

Did they come out in mass market paper, trade paper, or hardcover, Marianne?

Marianne Stillings

Right now, they're in mass market paperback, although the first and the third were sold through...


Doubleday Book Club and Rhapsody, so they came out in hardcover.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, book club, how sweet! J Congrats.


Very cool. How do you get sold through a book club?

Marianne Stillings

Thank you. I was very pleased. It's rare for a debut author to get picked up by book clubs, so I was very pleased and honored.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding!

Marianne Stillings

What happens is, your publisher offers books to book clubs


who review the list, then chooses the ones they want. Big name


authors are almost automatically picked up, but we newerbees..not so likely.


Did your publishing in fiction start out with the trilogy or did you start with the magazine market? And did you get an agent first or go for the publishers?

Marianne Stillings

I never wrote for magazines.


I did get an agent first. The best move to do. Let the agent handle


all the business end, while you focus on writing. when I


went looking for an agent, I said I wanted a partner, and that's just what I got.


She’s fabulous. She's in New York and really knows her stuff.


How did you get your agent?

Marianne Stillings

Getting an agent is as hard, if not harder, than getting published.


The reason is, they don't get paid unless your book sells.


Their livelihood rests on your marketability.


I sent out 10 packages to 10 agents that I thought I'd like.


Making sure they were agents who represent RS, and not trout fishing manuals or something.


To make a long story short, I ended up with offers of representation


from two agents, so I got to choose. That's ideal. That way, you're not forced to take an agent


but you get to pick.

Mary Rosenblum

That's excellent advice, Marianne, and thank you for being clear about how hard it is to acquire one...but you you have proved.


And you NEED one for a NY house.

Marianne Stillings

Yes, you can. In fact


you can do anything in publishing...


as long as you don't give up. Never give up.


If you have faith in your ability, and want to write and get published


hang in there. Keep reading how to books or taking classes.


It may take time to get published, but giving up ensure you never will.


I almost gave up, and stopped writing for about a year.


Then I thought, No Way...I'm going to try something new.


That's when I wrote The Damsel In This Dress, and it sold. If I'd given up


I'd still be unpublished. Have faith in yourself


and keep writing!

Mary Rosenblum

That's excellent advice! Write it down, you all. So had you written novels before you sold Damsel In This Dress?

Marianne Stillings

I was very fortunate. I sold my 4th manuscript. I'd only been writing for about three years.


I had a western historical, a short romance, and another historical.


but my "voice" is more contemporary. I love RS, so I decided to give writing them a shot.


And that's what did it for me. Many writers go on for a very long time


before they finally sell, so I consider myself extremely lucky.

Mary Rosenblum

Oh, may I give you a hug! You are such a FINE example of the fact that just because you don't sell the first book or so that you write, it does NOT mean you never will!!

Marianne Stillings

Thank you - and hugs right back at you. If there's anything


writers need to be aware of it's that rejection is a part of the process.


Even after you publish, you still face rejection.


Just because you sold one book, there's no guarantee anywhere


you'll ever sell another. So if you want to make a career of writing


you have to keep working at it, getting better, honing your craft...and facing rejection.


My editor doesn't ADORE every proposal I send her, so I have to keep reworking my ideas until she accepts them.


It’s a frustrating business, but very rewarding. but you have to have a thick skin


and accept rejection as part of the deal. But keep writing and you'll get there.

Mary Rosenblum

Mary considers the three unsold novel manuscripts in HER files.


But I’ve sold eight, so that's not a bad track record.


Did your credits in tech writing help, or were the offers based entirely on your first novel?

Marianne Stillings

No, my tech writing credits didn't buy my anything.


The thing is - it's all about the book. Write a good book, and somebody will buy it.


You can be the world's greatest authority


on your topic, or you can have five degrees after your name


but unless a publisher thinks they can sell your book AND MAKE MONEY FROM IT


you won't sell. It's a hard lesson for a lot of people, but publishing is a hard business where the bottom line is everything.


I've learned some things in the last 2 years I had never suspected about the industry, and I learn more and more every day.


But the lesson is - no matter who you are, if you write a good book, you can be a published author.


Having said that, exceptions to this rule are princess, rock stars, former politicians, and other already famous people


who don't need the money but get millions in advances


because publishers know their books will sell.

Mary Rosenblum

That's an excellent statement of the 'publishing bottom line' Marianne. Thank you. Including the real if unfair 'rockstar' advantage. J


So perhaps we should all start with hip-hop.

Mary Rosenblum



Do you think self publishing a story or book counts with publishers?

Marianne Stillings

No. Self publishing can actually defeat your chances of getting publishes


because once your book is in print OR on the internet, it's previously published material


and no publishers will touch it because they don't own it, or have first rights.


There are exceptions to this, but they are very, very rare.


Thank you because I did try to explain that to someone.


Does it matter if your agent is in the same state as you?

Marianne Stillings

There is a lot of misinformation out there about publishing and unfortunately


people are taken advantage of because of their ignorance of the facts


and being anxious about getting published. It's very unfortunate.


My agent is about as far away from me as you can get and still be in the continental US (grin)

Mary Rosenblum

IF you're publishing with a NY house, you really really need an agent in or very close to (NJ) New York.

Marianne Stillings

With today's electronic communications, email, etc. your agent and your publisher don't need to even be on the same planet as you.


Very true, I was naive and ignorant and got taken, now my first agent is off to jail and has to pay us writer's back.

Marianne Stillings

Yes, if you want to publish in NY, you honestly need to get an agent. Make it a priority. She will do for you what you cannot do for yourself --


include negotiate a much better deal than you can.


Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that! There are a lot of disreputable people out there


ready to take advantage of regular people like you and me.


We have to be very careful, check these people out, get references, then go by our guts.


No agent at all is better than a bad one, but a good one can make all the difference in the world to your writing career.

Mary Rosenblum

Check the Preditors and Editors website with any agent or publisher's name. You'll find the scams listed. Preditors and Editors


I was discouraged for a while but got back to my novels and am looking once again for another agent. Like the hair ad says, because I'm worth it J

Marianne Stillings

Excellent advice.


Yes, you ARE worth it!!! Good for you!


If you are already published, can you still hire an agent?

Marianne Stillings

Yes. Writers change agents all the time for various reasons.


If you've sent in a manuscript, and an editor offers to buy it


say, my agent will get back to you. The call all the agents


you've always wanted and tell them you have an offer on the table.


Since you've just done their work for them, few agents would turn you down.


But do have a professional read over your contract before you sign with a publisher, if nothing else.

builder guy

Do you have a long or short term contract with your agent?

Marianne Stillings

I have a book-by-book contract. That means


I propose a book, and Avon has first option to buy it or reject it.


Just because you have a 3-book deal with a publisher


doesn't mean they have to buy your next book, only that they have that option.


You do a contract, and that sets how much your advance and royalties will be, that's all.


Would anyone like to know about how you get paid?

Mary Rosenblum

Everyone would love to hear it, I'm sure!

Marianne Stillings

Your agent is a separate entity from your publisher. She works for you, not the other way around. She works for you unless you fire her, or she quits, regardless of who publishes you, or whether you are even published.


Okay, here's how it works.


You sign a contract for your book. Your publisher agrees to give you an advance (that's money in advance of your anticipated royalties).


For an example, we'll say PubGuys have agreed to give me a $10,000 advance for my book.


Do they give me 10,000 dollars in one lump sum? No. They keep as much of the money as they can for as long as they can (this is a business remember).


Once you sign the contract, you work for PubGuy; your editor is, in essence, your boss.


You've given them your manuscript, and they give you half your advance. Then your editor reads it again


and gives you a revision letter. Long, drawn out, I love your book, but here's what I want you to change.


You receive this letter, and have a stroke, and cry all night. If she hated my book, why did she buy it? Revisions are a part


of the publishing process of which I was unaware. So, you make the revisions


and when your editor accepts them, THEN they give you the second half of your advance (this could be months and months after you've gotten the first half).


Then the book comes out. You get royalties twice a year.


Avon does them in April and October. This October, I'll get a royalty statement


based on sales from Jan to the last day of July


which means, if your book comes out in June, you only get about


60 days of royalties. Let's say your book did well, and


it made the publisher some money. But they've already given you


10,000, so they deduct that amount from your royalties


which is generally 8 percent of the cover price of your book.


And then they keep some money in case any books are returned from the bookstore (they always are).


Then your agent gets 15 percent of whatever's left.


And then you pay taxes on what you get. Very glamorous.


Like the man said, don't quit your day job. There's more


but that's the quick and dirty version.

Mary Rosenblum

That's a very nice quick and dirty version, thank you. J


Hardly glamorous, as you say.

Marianne Stillings

I think it's important for writers to be aware that it takes


publishing a good 5-10 books before you begin to


see any kind of money. Those big first time out bestsellers


are RARE, which is why they are so awesome. It won't happen that way for most of us.


And of your royalties from sales are less than your advance, you get nothing at the time right?

Marianne Stillings

I'll be honest with you, because nobody talks numbers and I think it's important writers don't have delusions about the kind of money they're going to get when they get published.


My first advance was 8,000 dollars. I got it in 3 installments.


The first third when I signed the contract, the second third when...


No, wait, two installments. Sorry. 4,000 on signing; 4,000 when the revisions were accepted.


My book came out in July, so there was nothing on my October


royalty statement. I had to wait until April of the next year


and then my royalties were just about 2,000 ALL of which went to taxes.


So, when you break it all down, time to write the book, money for supplies,


agent's fees, reserve on returns, etc. I probably cleared about 30 cents a copy for books priced at $5.99.


If I had to rely on writing, I'd starve.

Mary Rosenblum

I really appreciate you being frank about numbers, Marianne. Many writers are uncomfortable doing that, and a lot of novice writers really misunderstand what they may earn.


You don't get into this biz for the money!!! LOL


Go be a plumber!

Marianne Stillings

You're welcome. I wish someone had been honest with me so I'd have known what to expect.

Mary Rosenblum

That's why I do these interviews. J

Marianne Stillings

The thing is, if you're really a writer IT DOESN'T MATTER because you love to write and you're going to do it whether they pay you or not.


Thank You for sharing that information. Most writers wouldn't.


If the sales are less than the advance, must you repay the publisher?

Marianne Stillings

No. You never have to repay advance money. This doesn't bode well


for them publishing you again, but if you make any money at all


they "grow" you, and are putting time and effort into your career in the hopes


you'll catch on and then everybody makes money.


Do you receive roylities as long as the books sell?

Marianne Stillings

Yes. As long as my books sell, I will receive royalties.


Do you save the first money to pay for book signings, publicity etc?

Marianne Stillings

I don't do a lot of book signings because frankly, the turnout for new authors just isn't that good.


The irony is, when you don't need to sell books (i.e., you're famous) that's when everyone shows up.


I have a day job and can't afford to travel and do a lot of advertising.


Avon is not very good about pushing unknowns, but they published me, and I'm doing well and growing an audience


so I'm just sort of letting nature take its course.


Who has the responsibility of marketing once the book it out?

Marianne Stillings

I did, however use some of the advance money (which is a nice chunk of change when you get it), to


buy my daughter a piano, and get some new furniture.


The author is responsible for marketing her own book. The big name authors have


publicity agents, or the publishing house will do it, but the rest of us


have websites, blogs, newsletter mailings, whatever you can afford to do to get your name out there.


Is hiring a publicist a good idea?

Marianne Stillings

My feeling is, if my books are good, and if I do my job, and if readers like what I do


I'll get popular and the money will naturally follow.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm with you, Marianne.

Marianne Stillings

If you can afford a publicist, it's a good idea.


Did you create a website before you were published?

Marianne Stillings

Yes. I know html and how to design websites, so I did one in advance of getting published.


Not many people visited it until my book came out, but I was anxious, so I went ahead.


I'm now at a point where I don't have time to do it anymore


so I've hired a professional to revamp and maintain it.


I didn't do a bad job, but it's not slick and fab the way some are.


Do you get anything for remaindered books?

Marianne Stillings

I'm sorry - I'm not familiar with the term; is that when bookstores return books to the publisher?

Mary Rosenblum

Yes, Marianne

Marianne Stillings

I thought so. No. Nothing.


Are there any subjects off limits in romantic suspense? Or any trends to avoid?

Marianne Stillings

These days, the sky's the limit. Another word of advice, don't write to trends.


Once you figure out a trend, by the time you get your book written


and published, that trend will be dead and a new one will have taken it's place.


Write what you feel, what you want to write, write characters who speak to your heart.


Tell your own story in your own way, be unique, nobody has a voice like you have.


Stick to who you are, and you'll be fine and won't need to follow trends.

Mary Rosenblum

GOOD advice there!


One last question!


I'm writing a novel about a woman shot and widowed by a mugging gone bad, she's terrorized by buddies of the murderer, has 8 and 3 yr old children and will progress to a romantic interest. Am I cramming too much in? Would a trilogy work better--with her back journey back from tragedy with each stage completed in a book?

Mary Rosenblum

What do you think, Marianne?

Marianne Stillings

Let's see --- it's hard to say...


whether you're cramming too much in. It doesn't sound like it,


but it depends on how you handle it and how much detail, backstory...


how many characters, etc. you have.

Mary Rosenblum

Write the book, Beryl, and see how it goes. J


I was keeping the character number down and exploring the emotions.

Marianne Stillings

Definitely write the book. Once you get going, you'll know, but it sounds like a single book to me.

Mary Rosenblum

Does to me, too, to be honest.

Marianne Stillings

Most definitely focus on emotions. That's why readers read. It's all about the people and how we can relate to them.

Mary Rosenblum

Marianne, I know we're running over a bit, but want to tell us a bit about the next book coming out?

Marianne Stillings

It's Arousing Suspicions from Avon - out on March 1st. I really like it and hope readers will, too.


I do want to say that, if any of you want to email me privately about writing


or the publishing process, please do. I'd love to hear from you


and will be happy to help any way I can.

Mary Rosenblum

Marianne's Website


Marianne, you have been a GREAT guest.

Mary Rosenblum

I mean that very sincerely. I hope you'll join us again? Maybe when the new book is out?

Marianne Stillings

Arousing Suspicions will be out on March 1st and it's fast and fun and, eh-hem, sexy.

Mary Rosenblum

ooo, sexy is good.

Marianne Stillings

Thank you; I've enjoyed it very much, and appreciate the opportunity. I wish you all well, and please, keep writing!

Mary Rosenblum

You've been very frank and forthcoming about the mysteries of NY publishing. We all appreciate it.


Thank you...sticking to original goal J


Thanks, Marianne and Mary for an interesting evening


Congratulations that's awesome and inspiring (to me anyway) thank you for your honesty.

Marianne Stillings

I'll be happy to come back. I hope you'll invite me again.

Mary Rosenblum

They can email you from your website, right?

Marianne Stillings

There's no link, but the address is

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you, Marianne.


I’m sure you'll hear from folk. :-)

builder guy

Thank you very much

Marianne Stillings

Thanks! I had fun, but my eyes are crossed and my fingers tired!

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding!


We'll let you go relax.


Thanks a lot for coming.


And have a great time on your trip to England and Scotland!

Marianne Stillings

Are we done? If so, I'm outta here. See you!

Mary Rosenblum

See you!

Mary Rosenblum



Great information thanks


Thank you so much both of you

Mary Rosenblum

And thank you all for coming!


Marianne was a great guest, wasn't she?


I'll certainly invite her back.


Good night all!


Thank you for coming, and I'll see you on the website!



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