Many congratulations to the brilliant Lynnette Beers on the release of her brand new novel, SAVING SAM, out today!
As an experienced San Diego lifeguard, Sam Cleveland has been trained to save others. On what becomes the most treacherous beach day ever, she battles the sea as her ability as a lifeguard is tested. While she risks her life to rescue swimmers from the rough surf, her world comes crashing down when she learns that her brother Robert has been in a serious accident. She then must leave San Diego and the young woman she’s recently started dating to return to her hometown—a place that holds a horrid memory from her childhood.
Once back in Mississippi, Sam sits vigil at Robert’s bedside. Always protective when Sam was a child, Robert clings to life as investigators search for the person responsible for his accident. As she faces the possibility of losing her brother, Sam is reminded that her hometown holds an unspeakable secret that she and Robert vowed to always keep buried.
On the hunt for the man who intentionally harmed Robert is Lieutenant Annie Wright—the woman who captured Sam’s heart years ago. Now just friends, Sam and Annie work together to find the person responsible for Robert’s injuries. But as painful childhood memories resurface, so do old feelings of love. Will Sam choose to move forward with the chance at new romance in San Diego, or will she return to the comfort of familiar love with Annie in Mississippi?
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Can you tell us a little about how your writing journey began - at school, as a teen, later in life? Were you good at English at school?
For as long as I can I remember, I loved to read. As a child, I liked that I could get lost in a good story. I was good at English from a young age, most likely because my parents encouraged me to read when I was little. I was in third grade when my teacher, Miss Brinker, got me excited about writing stories. It was by far my favorite part of school because I could let my imagination run wild as I wrote my little kid stories. When I was a teen, the writing shifted to analytical essays, and it wasn’t until I was in college getting a BA in English that I knew I wanted to be a writer. I took a few years off after I received my bachelor’s degree, but once I enrolled in an MFA program, I grew so much as a writer. During those years in grad school, I felt encouraged and challenged by my fellow MFA students, many of whom are still dear friends.
Did you always want to be published, or was there a moment when you decided to take your writing out into the world?
Before I even considered writing a novel, I only wrote short stories and narrative essays, but after I went on a summer study abroad trip to London, I started to come up with ideas for a novel. I ended up going on three summer study abroad trips to London when I was in graduate school. By the third trip, I had a clear idea of where that book was headed as far as the plot and characters. It was at that point when I knew I wanted to be a published novelist. Once I did a major revision of my novel, I felt incredibly driven to become a published author. Now, I’ve got two novels published, a third one completed, and another one just starting to take form. I can’t not write. When working on my work-in-progress, I feel I’m doing what I was meant to do.
Did you have a team of readers and critique partners, or people you used to help you polish your work before submitting to publishers? Do you still have these people on your team even now you're published?
No, I don’t have critique partners. When I write my books, I’m very much focused on the story. I don’t share the completed book until it has been revised and edited numerous times. For my most recently released novel, Saving Sam, I had a few beta readers review the manuscript and give me suggestions for improvement. I know writer’s groups can be valuable to some writers, but they’ve never worked well for me because it’s hard to hear so many differing suggestions during the creative process. I tend to want the entire creative process to be a solo journey, which seems to work well for me. I’m especially fanatical about editing my books. Many people say to just get out a finished draft, but I’m the type of writer who edits as I go. As I wrote Saving Sam, I became almost overly fixated on getting each chapter just right before I moved on to the next. I still do another overall final edit before I send the book to my publisher, but my process seems to work well for me so far.
Can you tell us a little about when you first received an offer of publication? How did that go?
For about a year and a half, I sent out query letters to try and get Just Beyond the Shining River published. I went to writers’ conferences and pitched my book idea to editors and agents. A couple of agents seemed eager to see my manuscript, but they ended up not offering me a contract to publish my book. I decided to submit to a small publisher called Regal Crest Enterprises. They’re a lesbian publisher and seemed like a good place to start as far as me publishing my novel. Regal Crest’s submission guidelines asked to see the full manuscript, along with a synopsis and bio. I submitted my book to them sometime in December of 2016. In the meantime, I was still going to conferences to pitch my book to agents. In January of 2017, I received excellent feedback from an agent who in turn said she wanted to see my entire manuscript—after I trimmed off 30,000 words! I then set out to cut chunks of material from the book, realizing in my gut that I shouldn’t cut so many words. I might’ve cut around 3,000 words when I received an e-mail in January of 2017 from Regal Crest offering me a contract to publish my book. I was at the hair salon at the time, and when I glanced at the e-mail, I thought it’d said, “We would not like to offer you a contract.” It took me a couple moments to realize it said, “We would now like to offer you a contract” (italics added for emphasis). I even showed the e-mail to my hairstylist to have her read it to make sure I’d read it right. I was over the moon at this news and almost couldn’t believe it. I knew nothing about publishing contracts, so that was a whole new area for me to research. My publisher is incredibly fair, reliable, and supportive. The process to get the book in print consisted of more edits (by two of Regal Crest’s editors and also by me). The whole editing process was both interesting and mostly painless.
How is life as a published author? What's been the highlight and the lowlight? What things have you struggled with up to this point? Is your publisher good at helping with marketing and promotion, etc?
The highlight for me is seeing my book in print and signing my books. I’m a full-time college professor, and sometimes my students will buy my novel. I get such a thrill to sign one of my books for a student. The lowlight is not knowing how to convince new readers to read my books. My publisher and editor say that it could take three or four books for readers to take me seriously. One thing I learned early on is that agents are usually hesitant to represent a new writer. It’s all about sales, and there’s a big risk to take on a debut author. I’m grateful that my publisher is so supportive of new writers. As far as marketing, Regal Crest has an excellent website and uses social media to promote their writers, but marketing for the most part is done by me. That’s another lowlight—figuring out how best to promote myself as an author. My first book was a Goldie finalist for best debut novel (a Golden Crown Literary Society award), and that increased sales slightly. As most newer authors know, marketing can be difficult.
If you had one piece of advice for upcoming writers what would it be?
My advice is always this: Don’t give up but also dedicate a lot of time to your craft. This means getting your manuscript in the best shape possible before sending it to agents and publishers. It’s also important to not let rejections discourage you. As a fellow writer kept telling me when I was sending out query letters, “It only takes one yes.”
Lynnette has been telling stories ever since she was a child, but it wasn’t until adulthood that she realized she wanted to pursue a career in writing. After earning degrees in English and film studies, she went on to get an MA in literature and an MFA in fiction writing. She’s been a professor of creative writing, British literature, and composition for over twenty years. Her first novel, Just Beyond the Shining River, takes place in England and is partially told through old letters which reveal scandalous family secrets. Her most recent novel is titled Saving Sam, an intense, fast-paced story about a lifeguard in San Diego who, after finding out her brother has been in a serious accident, must return to her hometown in Mississippi—a place that holds a horrid memory from her childhood. When not writing, Lynnette enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and ocean swimming.
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