Monday, November 16, 2015

Guest Post by Rachel McMillan - Write Where You Know

It's my absolute pleasure to introduce to the ICFW podium, a friend to many of us, Rachel McMillan. Rachel lives in Toronto and is soon (very soon, in fact)  to have her first works published. 2016 is going to be a big year for Rachel and her two lady detectives. Rachel has a great post to share with is, one that most of us can very easily relate to. In addition, Rachel and I will be chatting on the blog in 2 weeks so do come back.

Please give Rachel a hearty ICFW welcome.

Last December I signed a contract with Harvest House publishers for three novels and three e-novellas featuring two trouser-wearing, mystery solving Sherlockian lady detectives in the Edwardian era. You’re thinking: this premise + the CBA…are you nuts? To add to the crazy, the proposed series was set in Toronto, Canada where I live.

We’ve all heard it: write what you know.  But I wanted to write about where I know. And in some cases, the where was a contributing factor to some of the rejections I received on my proposed manuscript. It wasn’t rare for my agent and I to receive an email pass that mentioned that their publishing program was invested in historical fiction set in America, even as the last few years have seen that landscape change providing readers stories from a variety of international locales. I even contributed a list to Novel Crossing called Beyond the Borders focusing on some of these international locations.

When I first talked to my agent about the international setting, I made sure that she knew that it was a deal-breaker for me to set at least part of the series in my beautiful Canadian city. When I met with editors at ACFW, I made sure that they knew it was hill I would die on, too.  While we were sure my high concept would provide buzz and capitalize on the steady growth of romantic suspense, I needed to make sure that I could keep my Canadian setting.

But, like any CBA author, I had spent time and research aware of the publishing world, focusing on things that would make my project saleable. Indeed, with the notable exception of Janette Oke, Canada isn’t always a setting prominently represented in the CBA. Because the majority of CBA publishers are located in America, the majority of books published are set in America for the vast number of American Christian readers.

I spent years as an enthusiast of CBA fiction, as a reviewer and influencer, aware of this climate and understanding of this climate.  I took the time to learn about the CBA  publishing spectrum and was able to make a case for my Canadian setting if it ever came time to discuss it.

While one rejection mentioned that the Toronto setting was “exotic” (which made me laugh a little, I confess), I made sure that my series was inclusive of the American readers and publishers noting that with difficult sales, it has become more important than ever for publishers to be able to look to projects that are saleable.

I had the high concept that made several publishers take several glances at my hook but I needed to make sure that said pitch reflected popular tropes in the CBA.

While I was crafting the three-book series ( and believe me, I know how rare it is for a debut author in this day and age to sell a 3 book series off the bat), I took into account what make American publishers  might take notice of.

I made sure that my second proposed novel had a prominent American setting: in A Lesson in Love and Murder by lady detectives are employed to help stop an assassination attempt on Theodore Roosevelt.   

But I also made sure that 1910s Toronto (which was still very much a British-influenced Colonial setting) reflected that which was integral to my country’s burgeoning culture: I introduce a Mountie (red serge and all) as a major character and I take the series in the Great War, where Canadians fought with Britain from as early as 1914.

If you are attempting to publish with one of the major US CBA publishers, it is important to recognize that several publisher’s programs (especially during this uncertain time  of book sales) will want to reflect the interest and location of their largest majority of readers---U.S. based readers.  In a climate of uncertain sales, this is quite logical.

But you, international author, should still ensure you are including something indigenous to where you are and infusing the expanding CBA landscape with something unique and fresh.

As international authors it is not as easy for us to visit our publishers, to attend conferences and maybe (despite the great ACFW efforts) easy for us to join a branch of the ACFW.  That being said, we have a great many things at our disposal: Social Media, Publisher’s Blogs, Twitter and Email.  Make sure that you read and learn about the fictional landscape you are approaching. Make sure that you have a specific reason why you are choosing to set your precious book in an area close to your heart and make sure that while you might have one or two fictional “hills you will die on” , that you prove malleable and teachable.

Now more than ever, the CBA is looking for fiction set in unique places and it is a prime time for you, fair author, to take the reins.

Rachel McMillan is a keen history enthusiast and a lifelong bibliophile. When not writing or reading, she can most often be found drinking tea and watching British miniseries. Rachel lives in bustling Toronto, where she works in educational publishing and pursues her passion for art, literature, music, and theatre.

Rachel can be found in the following places on the web:

Bookish Ramblings: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Twitter: @rachkmc
Instagram: @rachkmc
Facebook: rachkmc1

Rachel's first novella and novel are available for pre-order. Here are the links:

The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder 

A Singular and WhimsicalProblem (releases Dec 1)


  1. How interesting to see all the planning you put in "behind the books," Rachel. All writers have challenges to overcome on the way to publication. You took a challenge and wove it into your novels -- making it an integral part of the stories because it's part of who you are. I'm so looking forward to your debut novel -- and the rest of the series.

  2. Thanks, Beth! I think any author wanting to break into the industry nowadays does well to do the research and read, read, read! Showing a careful understanding of the publishing climate can help writers seeking an agent or publication :)

  3. Mounties? Say no more. Sold.

    Personally, I can't wait to see more CBA fiction set outside US borders. To me, a unique setting is an easy way to make a novel stand out as fresh and different, especially in familiar genres like mystery and romance.

  4. Late to the party, as always! Fabulous post. And you already know how excited I am about more international locations hitting the CBA in 2016 :)

  5. Iola and Kara, I'm loving the premise of Rachel's series. Very clever and be great to cheer on a new double act. I'm so looking forward to meeting them in the novella that launches in a little over 2 weeks.

    Thanks so much (and Beth) for popping by to encourage Rachel.

  6. Hi Rachel, Welcome to ICFW and congratulations on your 3 book contract! It's great to see another series from the CBA in an international setting - well done :)