I'm happy to have Heather Moore as a guest today! She's a great advocate for writing newbies like me. She's always generous giving writerly help.
FINDING SHEBA: Writing & Publishing Journey
For every novel I have written, there is a story behind the writing, and there is also a story behind the publication. Finding Sheba has extensive stories on both accounts. I’m a “discovery writer” or a “pantser writer.” This means I often don’t know what will happen next in the story. I’ll sit down to write and read the pages I wrote the day before and hope (crossing fingers) that I can pick up where I left off and come up with something interesting.
Finding Sheba will be released in August 2013, but if you can believe it, I started the first draft of this book in 2005. I had two historical novels out by then and was working on my third. I remember doing a book signing at the Provo mall and walking into the bookstore. On the front display was The DaVinci Code, which I’d read and loved, but even more interesting was the fact that there were a half dozen books surrounding The DaVinci Code written about the novel… trying to explain the symbolism behind Dan Brown’s story, busting the myths, or commenting on some of the theories brought out in the novel.
I thought to myself: “Wow, how would it be to write a book in which others write books about the subject matter to explain in more detail the theories in my novel.” Of course this was a pipe dream and who knows if someone will ever do that for Finding Sheba, but it set my imagination on fire as I tried to come up with a story that had fantastic arguments on both sides.
I settled on the queen of Sheba because, first, she’s a queen! And not only that, her story is told in the Bible, which not everyone believes is a true and accurate historical account. This meant that I already had a subject that was debatable. In a conversation with my father (who happens to be a Biblical scholar, convenient for me, yes), he said there was no archaeological evidence that the queen of Sheba ever existed. In fact… there’s no archaeological evidence that King Solomon, or his father, King David, ever existed either. This means that if these kings didn’t exist then Israel’s claim to the Holy Land is a false claim.
So I thought… what if evidence was found? Indisputable evidence? Then I turned that on its head… but what if, first… evidence to the contrary was found? I found a fascinating book by Nicholas Clapp called Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen. Mr. Clapp explained some of the theories behind the queen’s life and the different countries that claim her as their own (Yemen, Oman, Egypt, and Ethiopia).
Now all I needed was the main conflict… why was it important to find the tomb, and what obstacles would be thrown in the way? Since I could see that plot getting too big to wrap my arms around, I decided to Plot. For the very first time. I’d written six novels (3 unpublished at the time, and those will remain so), but had never officially plotted or outlined any scenes. This would be different, and I was determined to make decisions in advance and to follow them. It worked all right for about five or six chapters, then I started to deviate. And before I knew it, I wasn’t following my plot at all.
In fact, I had written 200 pages and realized that something major was missing. I had Jade, the American woman trying to complete her professor’s work; Alem, the Ethiopian on his own personal quest to find the queen he was descended from; and the queen’s own story, told in flashbacks in time . . . but I needed a character to tie Jade and Alem together, and to set the conflict in motion, and to get the country of Israel involved. Omar Zagouri was then created, and true to his character, he then promptly took over as the main character.
550 pages completed the first version of the novel, which I titled Queen. I sent the manuscript (printed out) to several friends and started working on revisions. I started querying agents and publishers. I attended the RWA in SLC and in a bold move handed over three chapters to a visiting agent. The second day at the conference she said, “I’m hooked, send me the rest.” I did, and when she finished reading it, she told me she didn’t like the ending.
I spent the next several months thinking about her comments and deciding to revise. About 150 pages disappeared and a different 100 pages materialized. I sent the book back to the agent, but she never replied. Still, I was satisfied that I had a stronger story. I found a couple of writing contests to enter and Queen won the grand prize in one of them. Part of the prize was agent representation with a respected agency out of NYC. I was more than excited, and decided this was it.
It was now 2008, and I had written other novels that were being published with my regular publisher. My agent told me that Queen was too long. I needed to cut 100 pages before she could shop it. So… I did… word by word, analyzing scene by scene, characters, plot. Finally in 2009, the submissions began. No one offered in the first round. So we sat on it for a while. The economy was dipping lower and lower and major publishers were laying off editors by the dozens.
My own publisher in Utah was going through major changes, sales were dropping, and people weren’t buying books like they used to.
I continued attending writers conferences and meeting with editors, trying to find if Queen would be a good fit for one of their publishing houses. There were some highs and lows… several phone calls from editors in NYC, and I thought, “I’m so close! This is really it!”
We’re now in 2011 and the ebook market is taking off like crazy. Some publishers are even considering releasing books as ebooks first. I’m still writing and publishing for my publisher and now I have nine books out with them. But thoughts of Queen won’t leave me alone. I decided, though, that my agent had given it enough time and work, and that I needed to shelve it. We both needed to move on. It had been through the rounds, and for whatever reason, the timing wasn’t there. I wasn’t convinced I’d self-publish it or do another major revision so that it could fit in with my very-conservative publisher… so I did nothing.
In the summer of 2012, I was planning out marketing for my first contemporary romance novel that was coming out in a few months. I realized that all of my other novels were historical thrillers, and written under H.B. Moore. Now, Athena (The Newport Ladies Book Club series) would be coming out, and published under Heather B. Moore. Since Amazon makes authors with two pen names separate those author pages, if someone looked up “Heather B. Moore” they’d find two inspirational non-fiction books and Athena. If someone loved Athena, they’d have nothing else to read that compared.
I wanted to put out another romance, contemporary or historical. But if I wrote a full novel then it would take months to write and a year or two to come out. This would not help me with crossover sales with Athena. Then I thought about writing something short… but could I do it? I’d written a short story to go with Queen for a thriller anthology. Maybe I could write a short romance.
One of the things I dread as an author is self-promotion: “Buy my book!” Putting out a short romance would just add to that… and it would now be “Buy my self-published novella!” To get around that, I thought about doing an anthology. I’d find other authors to write a short romance as well. Then it wouldn’t just be “me” shouting from the roof-tops. We’d be able to cross-promote and share readership.
But who could I ask? And did this mean I needed a publishing company imprint? And how do I choose the covers? Make all the publishing decisions? Edit? Design? I knew I didn’t want to do it solo. I went through my mental list of author friends, ones who could help with those decisions, help navigate the romance genre, and were fantastic writers as well with publishing experience in that genre. So I met with Annette Lyon and Sarah M. Eden, who both agreed to be on the board for Mirror Press. We put together A Timeless Romance Anthology series, first release would be October 2012. We invited three other authors to contribute for a total of six novellas in one anthology.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because… once I became an indie publishing Kindle author it meant that I received the KDP newsletters. In November, the featured publisher/author was Aaron Patterson of StoneHouse Ink. I read about his publishing success and the more I read, the more I realized that his company would be a perfect fit for Queen. Even though the book hadn’t been queried for over a year, I dug out my pitch sentence and crafted a letter to Aaron.
During this same time, my husband and I had been working on house plans with a designer named Aaron as well. So to my surprise, Aaron Patterson called me, saying he was from StoneHouse Ink. (Aaron + StoneHouse = house designer? Patterson is also a name of a builder in my area). He said he wanted to talk about my book. (Why did my architect want to talk about my book? Was he a fan?)
I finally clued in that I was talking to the publisher I’d just queried that day, but then after hanging up, wasn’t quite sure I’d just been on the phone with a publisher who’d offered to publish Queen. Even though we’d talked about contract terms, release dates, and the all-important cover—which we both agreed we were cover snobs—I don’t think I was 100% sure it was all real until I received an email with a contract attached.
Life is often ironic, and when I learned that Queen would be coming out summer 2013, a few months after my newest release Esther the Queen, I started posting on my Facebook page that my two novels about Biblical queens would be out in the same year. From the replies, I realized that my readers were confused about which book was which. Some thought my Queen book was really Esther the Queen, or that they were the same book. Of course, it was all perfectly clear in my mind, but I wondered if I’d be spending the next several years explaining it over and over in endless blog posts, interviews, or Facebook clarifications. I realized that although I’d lived and queried Queen for seven years now, the title had to change.
And Finding Sheba was born.