Friday, March 14, 2014


Today’s guest is New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Olivia Cunning. This is the first part of a special two-part series on finding success as a self-publishing author. Part two will run on Monday, March 17th. 
We hear so many great success stories in writing and from the outside it often looks so easy. But here’s Olivia to tell us about the truth about becoming an “overnight” sensation.

Part One: The Drawer Books

Sia asked me to talk about my experiences self-publishing. I've known her since before I was published. She’s seen all my ups and downs. Apparently, she thinks my late night, sleep deprived, sugar high induced rants are hilarious. Thanks, Sia. I’ll have you know my angst is real.

Back in the olden days—yes, the early 1990s are the olden days—I read a Silhouette Desire book by Nora Roberts. It wasn't the first romance book I’d ever read, but it was the book that made me want to write my own romance novel. Not because I thought I could write better than Nora-freakin-Roberts, but because I wanted to be like her when I grew up. This was before Nora Roberts was one of the biggest names in the romance genre, but even then I was blown away by her writing style.

I was nineteen years old, in a bad marriage, with a baby on the way, no college education, and my only job experience was in fast food. And I thought, hey, I’ll be a writer! How hard can it be? Don’t answer that. I was young and naive.

This was the “olden days.” There were no e-books. No Internet. Self-publishing consisted of paying out of your own pocket to have 1000 copies of your book printed. You would then stand in a parking lot and beg strangers to buy your book. If you were lucky, your mom bought a copy and used it as a coaster or something, pointing it out to visitors—“that’s by my kid, the writer”—which met with a lot of ceiling gazing and an occasional guilt-sale. So self-publishing never crossed my mind. I didn't have money to print copies of my book, and I’m much too shy and afraid of being punched in the face to annoy strangers in parking lots. So I went the traditional route.

I wrote my masterpiece—cough tripe cough—and when it was finished (with no editing), I saved it on my 5.25” floppy disk and took it to my second cousin’s house to use her dot matrix printer. I was too poor to buy my own printer. Hell, I was too poor to buy paper to put in the damned thing. Luckily, my cousin had a spare, yellowed ream. I looked through publisher marketplace books to find submission guidelines. I sent (via snail mail—there was no email in the olden days) a synopsis and three chapters to Harlequin and Silhouette. Those were the only romance publishers that would take unsolicited manuscripts from authors without agents. Then I waited. And waited. After ten thousand years (so it was more like ten months), Harlequin sent me a letter and requested the full manuscript. Which is good—because it gave me hope. And bad—because it gave me hope. So back to the cousin’s house to print out the entire manuscript and rip off more printer feed edges and separate each page along the bottom perforations. Oy! (Excuse me for a second. *goes to hug laser printer*) I borrowed money from my grandma for postage and sent off the book with big dreams for myself and my son. This was going to change our lives.


You know this is coming, right?

It was rejected with a form letter.

Ugh. I was gutted. Devastated. Destroyed. I was never going to be an author, much less make a living at it. So I went to college. And worked my ass off. And became a science teacher. But my dream was still to be a fiction author. I never stopped writing. I wrote after I put the kid to bed. I plotted during my commute. I wrote on weekends. I plotted some more while in the shower. I wrote during vacations. But I wasn't writing romance. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, I was the opposite of insane. I tried writing every genre I could as I attempted to find my niche. I could write. I just didn't know what to write.

I tried my hand at another series romance for Silhouette. The manuscript was rejected and shoved in a drawer.

I wrote a fantasy novel five hundred pages long. Agents wouldn't touch it. TOR, who also accepted unsolicited manuscripts at the time, rejected it. Shoved in a drawer.

I wrote a medical thriller. Rejected and shoved in a drawer.

I wrote a YA science fiction novel. Rejected and shoved in a drawer. Removed from drawer and entered into a contest. Lost contest and shoved back in drawer.

I wrote a paranormal romance. Rejected and shoved in drawer. Removed from drawer and entered into a contest. Lost contest and shoved back in drawer.

I wrote an erotic romance about rock stars. And…


That manuscript and the rest of the five book Sinners on Tour series was picked up by a small publisher.

The first book was released in October 2010. Finally, after 20 years of trying, I was published. I could go to a bookstore and see my book on a shelf. I could do a book-signing and have half a dozen people show up and have a customer ask the bookstore owner when they were going to have good writers like Stephenie Meyer do a signing. True story. When the customer asked that, she was standing directly in front of me, my book in her hand and her nose turned up. But my first five fans, my family, and Sia showed up at that very first signing, which made me feel a little better about not being a good writer like Stephenie Meyer.

At first, my rock star erotic romance didn't do so well. It did okay for a first book. People discovered it slowly. Very slowly. So I was published, but I wasn't making a living at it. Not by a long shot.

  • So how did I finally manage to quit my day job?

Come back on Monday for Part Two: My Own Brand of Insanity

Combining her love for romantic fiction and rock 'n roll, Olivia Cunning writes erotic romance centered around rock musicians. Her latest release, Sinners at the Altar, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers.


~Sia McKye~ said...

You crack me up. The olden days, lol! But it's true, there was no internet or self pubbing as we know it today, or lazer printers, either.

Yah, I still have my Harlequin rejection letter. The first in my collection. Finding that niche...that's the hard part.

Good article, inspiring yet realistic.

Keep up the good work my friend.

Pat Hatt said...

That must have been frustrating indeed, but kept at it and success came. But no internet, bah, that take forever lol

Kat Sheridan said...

I love this story about hard work and perserverence! It's nice to know it paid off! Wishing you every success with the latest book as well! I know your fans have been clamoring for it!

Jo said...

What caught my attention, a bad marriage at 19!! You can't have been married 5 minutes at that age.

Glad success finally came your way.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a lot of different genres.

Don't you love people like that a book signings? We meet them all, don't we?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a long time to wait for a best seller, but you didn't give up.
You should go back to some of those drawer manuscripts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sia and Olivia,

Just love the glamour of writing for 20 years to become an overnight success. :-)

Olivia, your YA pre-pub novel worked for both my (then 12 year old) son and I. I'm sure you'll have publishing successes outside of romance if you want to go there with another author "brand."

Your road to becoming a published writer is truly inspirational. Just keep on truckin'.

Sheila Deeth said...

Help! Those olden days sound so new. Does that mean I'm old? (Looks at gray hairs. Tries not to look at gray hairs. Wonders if getting a haircut would make them harder to see.) But now I have to come back Monday (with or without haircut) and see the rest.

Olivia Cunning said...

Hi y'all! Thanks for stopping by.

The internet has definitely changed everything. The world seems a much smaller place.

I was on my second year of marriage at 19, but had been with my then husband for five years. Now I think 19 year olds are babies! And romances at 14? Ick!

My book signings are quite a bit different now. My fans make me feel like a rock star. And that reminds me, the bookstore owner from that first signing--Becky, I adore you!--made me a T-shirt that says: "I'm a rock star! My fans say so."

Hope to see you all Monday!

Anne Gallagher said...

Congratulations for finally making it. I remember those "olden" days too, and still have my manuscripts that were printed out at my old job.

I am so looking forward to Monday and hearing about that happily ever after.

shelly said...

Being any kind of an author isn't easy. As for SM she's a great story teller. But her writing is far from stellar. I want to know who or what edited her books for her.

WordsPoeticallyWorth said...

Good luck to you and your writing.

Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Olivia - wonderful you've known each other for ages .. and such an interesting post on the hard work involved in writing and developing one's craft along the way ..

I look forward to Monday's part 2 and how success came along .. bet you're pleased you stuck it out!

Cheers to you both - Hilary

Slamdunk said...

Glad your persistence paid off. Looking forward to part 2 now...