Meet Kat Cantrell and Jennifer Drogell, 2 SYTYCW Success Stories!

Hi, So You Think You Can Write Participants!

2011 & 2012 SYTYCW winners Kat Cantrell and Jennifer Hayward are here to give you the skinny on the contest, their advice on writing, and hopefully answer some of your burning questions. Not only did SYTYCW launch both their careers, but it inspired a great friendship!

We’ve decided to have some fun and do a chat in Q&A format. So… let the fun begin!

How helpful was the conference itself and did it contribute to your success?

Jen: I thought the conference was amazing – to get all that sage advice from authors and editors… I took it all on board as I finished up The Divorce Party (which was only 70% done when I entered. Shush 😀 )

Kat: LOL! You were just practicing for when you had real deadlines, right?

Jen: Actually I was! I figured if I’m gonna do it I’d better be able to do it!

Kat: I thought the conference was amazing too! I especially liked the podcasts with editors because it really helped me know I was targeting the right line.

What about posting my chapter online—and eventually the whole manuscript? I’m very nervous about that! What if someone steals it or worse, criticizes it?

Jen: Ah! This is a good point! I had exactly that worry when I entered The Divorce Party into SYTYCW. I loved the unique concept and I was worried someone else might use it before I ever got published. But – life is all about taking chances. Sometimes you just have to go for it! And look what happened

Kat: My first chapters are posted online all the time now in the form of excerpts. No plots are original. Even if someone takes your idea, they’ll execute it differently. Your voice is what will sell the story!

Jen: Absolutely! Kat, if you and I wrote the same book we’d have completely different stories!

Kat: Yes, completely different stories and yours would be better.

Jen: And of course I would say YOURS would rock! I loved your debut – Marriage with Benefits! And everything else you’ve written since…

Kat: Also someone will criticize your work. Maybe not during SYTYCW, but what are revisions and reviews? Criticism. And sometimes it’s not nicely worded at all.

Jen: Not everyone is going to love your book, your voice. I found the feedback in both New Voices and SYTYCW empowering. Most people were amazing and I learned a ton about my writing. You did New Voices, too. Right, Kat? Was a top 10 finalist?

Kat: Yeah, I was a top 10 finalist and that’s an excellent point…that manuscript turned into two different full requests, both of which were ultimately rejected! It wasn’t until SYTYCW that things turned around for me. Never give up!

Isn’t the whole contest based on whether you can get votes or not? I’m not very savvy about promotion. Should I still enter?

Jen: YES! Honestly social media is a conversation – online. Get that twitter account up and running and just talk!

Kat: Once you have a book on the shelf, promotion is a critical part of your job. I’m still not great at it. I like to pretend sending “buy, buy, buy” vibes out into the world actually works.

Jen: My thought, also, was I was gunning for one of those editor wild card spots! I had no thoughts of winning.

Kat: YES–the wild card spots are an important point. Even if you don’t get votes, if your writing is strong and your voice is there, don’t worry. The editors will find you!

Okay, I’ve entered! But the waiting…it’s so awful! What can I do to get through it?

Kat: My local grocery store gives a six-bottle discount on wine. Maybe yours does, too? Kidding…

Jen: Divert yourself! Do your promo but make sure you also keep everything in perspective! It will get heart pounding the further you go.

Kat: Two really important things you can to do make waiting easier: Find some writer friends to commiserate with. No one understands waiting for The Call like other writers. Second, work on something new. Jen and I BOTH got two-book deals. You have to, you know, have other books to do a two-book deal. Make sure you do.

Jen: Right! Actually when I entered Kat became an amazing mentor to me! I remember her saying she was “paying it forward.” She was my lifeline

Kat: Awww, that’s so sweet. (She was amazing before I got ahold of her. Don’t tell, but I only said I’d read The Divorce Party because I HAD to know what happened!)

Jen: Big smile!

Kat: And we’re far past the point of mentoring now. We’re friends. That’s one of the greatest things about SYTYCW, meeting other authors. I can’t stress enough how important this is for you. For everyone who writes.

Kat: So don’t be scared off by the voting aspect!

What about those aspiring authors who won major contests and it led nowhere? Was your experience with SYTYCW different?

Jen: Well, I also know other great writers who won contests and DID make it big like the lovely Lynn Rae Harris and Sylvia Day! SYTYCW is so different. There is so much visibility for a writer. So many writers had requests for manuscripts after SYTYCW last year. And a bunch sold.

Kat: SYTYCW is different! We’ve got genuine careers with Harlequin. Other contests might only get you one book on the shelf, but I’ve signed contracts for eight books now. Jen, how many are you under contract for now? A bajillion I hope!

Jen: Six! Weeeee… And 8 for you! That’s amazing! I can’t say it enough!! Enter! You have nothing to lose.

Kat: Six…and many more to come, I’m sure.

Jen: I sure hope so! What say you then Kat? Should we open the floor to any questions? We’re more than happy to chat…

Kat: Sure! Ask us anything in the comments…except what we brainstorm while Jen is in the Lego store (love scenes). Some things are better left to the imagination.

We can’t wait to read your chapters! Good luck everyone and enjoy the ride!

33 replies on “Meet Kat Cantrell and Jennifer Drogell, 2 SYTYCW Success Stories!”

Hi Jen and Kat! How long did it take you to get the second book written? And did you know right away that it would be a sequel/series?

Obviously, you’re both excellent writers. Had you written books before SYTYCW? (Since this is my first full-length book, I’m sort of viewing it as serious practice rather than a heavyweight contender.) And, congratulations!!

That is awesome ladies! Congrats. What do your deadlines look like? I’m in Nocturne (the word count is crazy) and I wondered what it can be like.

Thanks so much for sharing! I love Kat’s writing (The Baby Deal is my favorite so far), and I have Jen’s on pre-order (Amazon says I’ll get it on Thursday!).

I read and enjoyed The Divorce Party as submitted to SYTYCW last year, and I’m looking forward to reading the final version. My question is: how much of the book changed in the editing process? I imagine it was enjoyable and enlightening to work with the Harlequin editors to bring your creation to its full potential. Can you talk a little about that?

I’m asking out of curiosity and also because I’ve read that “voice” is a huge draw for Harlequin editors and that, if the writer has a distinctive, good voice, other shortcomings or issues can be addressed in the editing process.

I’m submitting for Desire, with Billionaires and Babies in mind. Thanks!

Hi Rachel – thanks for dropping by! Tricia, it took me about 2-3 months to write An Exquisite Affair, my second book. After I won, my editor asked me to write the trilogy of all three De Campo brothers which I was thrilled about. 🙂

Thankyou both for sharing, this is a great q&a!
How did you go about pitching book 2 after you won contracts on book 1? Did you have whole other books written or just pitches?

Hi Jean! The Divorce Party was the third full manuscript I’d finished. My second full manuscript is going to be my fourth Presents book and I’m so glad because I love it 🙂 I had written a handful of partials before that but I promised myself to write a full and finish and what I learned from that process was invaluable. It’s really understanding how to structure and write a whole book. So I would say always finish your book.

LeTeisha I’ve committed to writing three books a year at the moment. Presents are 50K.

Devanie – My editors are amazing! The Divorce Party has some key changes related to sustaining tension, but the core of the story didn’t change nor did my voice. It’s true, the editors do buy voices and they are wonderful at letting you preserve yours. I will say a couple of key plot points did change so you’ll have to read 🙂 On my third De Campo book which I am finishing now, I had a few too many plotlines running through it, a ‘too enthusiastic’ love of secondary characters and my editor was amazing at pointing out exactly what I needed to do to get the story working. Yay Desire! Kat will be excited 🙂 And good luck to you both!

Rachel I was offered a two book contact when I won SYTYCW – and I had already started the second book at that point.:) So keep writing! You want to have a book 2 or more in the pipeline.

how hard was it for you to write your synopsis and pitch ? i know there will be a section on that, but do you have any key points to share?

and congrats on your wins and publishing !

Hi Everyone! I’m so thrilled to be here and so looking forward to reading all your entries!!

@Rachel Thomas–Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it and bless you for reading the whole thing. 🙂

@Tricia–I already had it written! So when I got The Call, my editor said, “Hope we’ll do more books together.” I said, “By the way, I have this one already done…” and the rest is history! It wasn’t actually a sequel so, no, I hadn’t planned for that. Jen did though!

@Jean–Thank you so much! Marriage With Benefits was the fifth complete manuscript I’d written. I did consider the first four “practice” though I did eventually sell two of them. 🙂

@LeTeisha–Hi there! My deadlines are actually really great. Usually I have around four months or so to write the full, a month or so on revisions, three weeks on line edits and one-two on copy edits. It kind of depends on what else is going on with the line and other commitments. I usually don’t have any problems hitting the deadline but my editor is VERY understanding. I <3 her. 🙂

@Devanie–THANK YOU! That makes my day. 🙂 And yes, shortcomings can be addressed. I've received several pages of revisions on each of my books. That's where your relationship with your editor is so important. Mine is so great at figuring out what I was TRYING to do and guiding me into the needed changes. But she rarely comments on my "voice" elements. Good luck on your sub! I LOVE B&B. 🙂

Hi Kat & Jen,
Thanks for sharing all your insights. As a Harlequin editor the key message is take a chance on contests like this. It’s an opportunity for editors to see your work. We went on to contract more authors early this year who also submitted to SYTYCW–Amy Vastine for Heartwarming and Marion Faith Laird for Love Inspired.

Hi Pattie –
Thank you and good luck! Make sure you have a line or two introducing your hero and heroine in the pitch and try and hit on their goal and conflict. Keep it punchy and infuse it with your voice. Easy huh?! Not. But you can do it. Synopsis is my most dreaded thing to do – I am wordy and you can’t be. Editors have said in the past to focus on the key signposts of your hero and heroine’s emotional relationship.

Pattie, thanks for coming by today! I have had to write both a synopsis and pitch for many of my books and the best tip I have is to focus on the romance and the hook. Condense it down until you know why these two are perfect for each other, why they can’t fall into each other’s arms right now (internal conflict is key!) and why your story is different than everyone else’s. That’s your pitch. Now expand on it–tell us how it happens and how it’s resolved. That’s your synopsis. I hope this helps!

Thanks Jen! Once I heard that eventually you sell on synopsis, I was determined to learn how to do it BEFORE I was under pressure. I never start writing a book until that synopsis is complete. That way I know what I’m doing with each chapter.

Hi Birgit! Thanks for being here with us. 🙂

Thanks for sharing your awesome insight ladies. It’s so very encouraging to hear about your journey to publication! Congrats on your amazing accomplishments, and thanks for sharing what you’ve learned with authors in the making. I think it’s safe to say that the participants in this week’s conference are eager to follow in your footsteps.

When you all write, do you write the story and see what line it fits, or is it best to target a specific line before you start writing?

I know that this is an opinion question, but I would love to hear your opinions.

Hi Lisa, Sherry – our pleasure! So looking forward to seeing your chapters up there.

Hi Heather – I think it’s best to have a clear idea which line you’re targeting before you start so you have that vision in your mind and can tailor the story to it. And have your best chance of success. When you read the lines they are very distinct. It’s hard to reverse engineer.

Hi Heather! Jen is right. I read the guidelines (many times) before I even conceived my story. You’ll have the best shot if you really know what the line is looking for. Good luck!

Completely off-topic, but have to ask: Jen, I’ve read The Divorce Party and thought it was awesome! Will we see Lily’s sister and Ricardo’s brother getting their own story? Keep up the good work!

Hi Lia – And thank you 🙂 You made my day. Yes! Gabe and Alex’s story is next coming out in Feb set in Napa Valley. It’s called ‘An Exquisite Affair’ and Matteo’s story, ‘The Truth About De Campo’ comes out in May. I’m so happy I’ve gotten to write all three! Good luck if you are entering?!

I am such a dweeb. I posted on the wrong spot. sigh, at least you can see my question in two places, but I bet the matchmaking editors are a little confused. Anyway, here it goes again

Wow, you guys are awesome! What an inspiration. Now if only I can finish my project… In time that is. How did you both find the time and stay motivated?

Hi Stephanie! Glad you made it 🙂 I used every spare minute I had to write – nights, vacations. Then I was fortunate enough to be able to cut back on my work schedule and write more frequently. I know writers who get up at 5 am to write, who write until 5 am…

As for motivation – writing romances was my dream. I never wanted to do anything as much as that. I went to writer’s conferences, online courses, I networked with other writers to keep my inspiration. I had good responses and form letters. And when I got knocked down I picked myself up again with a story I loved. My critique partners, writing friends and author mentors have also been key. They were the ones who told me I could do it. To persevere when I was in tears. And they are still doing it when I have a rough day. (Kat are you listening? 🙂 She is that for me)

I can’t wait to read your chapter if you enter! 🙂

Thank you so much for the advice, and congratulations on achieving your goals and dreams. Reading your comments was very interesting, and you all seem like a lot of fun?

Lia, Jen’s An Exquisite Affair is SO GOOD!! You’ll want to get it as early as you can. 🙂

Stephanie, thanks for (finally) coming by. 😛 Here’s the thing about time–you have to set goals. Let’s say I have a book due in a couple of weeks and I’m only on chapter eight. I know I need to write two thousand words a day to make my deadline. So I keep track on a spreadsheet. How do I know I can write two thousand words a day? I’ve done it on previous books. Figure out what you can write in a day and then do the math. Trust me when I say once you’re published, you have to pace yourself this way to know you’ll fulfill your contracts. Why not practice now?

Jen answered the question about motivation quite well–it’s the same for me. She’s a friend I can commiserate with and vent to. (and yes, I was listening!) I can’t tell you how valuable this is for keeping your head above water during all the phases of this thing called Being An Author.

Heather, thanks for being here! Jen and I do have fun and that’s the key. A lot about this business is hard and frustrating, even after you get that magical first contract. Don’t take it all so seriously. Writing a book should be fun or else why do it?

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