Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Like many of my writer friends, the road I have traveled so far in the quest for a “big” publisher has been long and hard.

In 1994, I finished my first book, a novel of romantic suspense. I landed an agent with the manuscript. He sent it out to six major publishers. They rejected the book, and the agent immediately dropped me.

I was so devastated and naive, I crawled away to lick my wounds for five wasted years, before taking several courses at the Bethesda Writer’s center where I learned not just how to write mystery fiction, but the elements that must be included. Stuff I’d never heard of, like story arcs, plot points. I learned how to write a synopsis, how to market, network, and that I needed to join groups like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. 

While taking these courses, I wrote the first book in the Nikki Latrelle series, FULL MORTALITY. With the novel finished some time in 2005, I queried 40 literary agents before securing one who believed FULL MORTALITY could attract a New York publisher. After months of this agent sending out and receiving rejections, I was disheartened to say the least. Of course, my agent avoided small publishers as the money was too meager for her.

In the meantime I wrote the second in the series, RACING FROM DEATH, which lingered at Bantam, New American Library and Berkeley for a total of 13 months before being rejected. Then, Marcia Markland at St. Martin’s Press requested an exclusive on RACING FROM DEATH before rejecting the manuscript nine months later. And so, another five years crawled by. 

I met John Betancourt, the publisher of the small DC area Wildside Press. He’d read parts of RACING FROM DEATH and offered to take it on, but I wanted to wait for the big NY deal. I waited on these NY publishers until the stock market crashed in 2008 and the Maryland horse market went down the drain right behind it.

In February of 2010, my favorite author Dick Francis passed away, I was diagnosed with lymphoma, and my horse farm was hit by the historic blizzard, Snowmageddon, the worst snow storm in the history of Maryland. 

The first hour of Snowmageddon

By now I was desperate and emailed Betancourt to ask if he’d look at the first in the series, FULL MORTALITY. He read the manuscript during the blizzard and accepted the book for publication the next day.

My agent informed me a NY publisher would no longer want to take on the rest of the series. We parted ways.

The treatment I underwent for my lymphoma was wonderfully successful, and miraculously, FULL MORTALITY was published in May of 2010, received rave reviews, and was nominated for both Agatha and Macavity Best First Book awards.

These nominations, and another big batch of query letters, helped secure a new, truly professional agent. But by the time I finished the third book, THE SEA HORSE TRADE, I knew my old agent had been right. New York publishers were not interested in a new book in a series already in the hands of another publisher–unless it had humongous sales. A word to the wise: you are unlikely to get humongous sales with a small press.

In the hopes of making some pocket change, I put a number of my short stories up on Kindle. I made a dollar here, a dollar there, almost enough to buy dog food.
My new agent told me if I wanted a bigger publisher that might provide me with a modest income, I had to start a new series. So I did, creating “Fia McKee,” a thirty-two-year old agent for the real life agency, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB.) I drove up to Fair Hill, Maryland, in the winter of 2012 and interviewed with the President and Vice President of the TRPB. The President asked me so many questions I felt almost like a criminal under investigation.

TRPB in Fair Hill, MD

I started the first book in the Fia Mckee series after I moved to Aiken in the fall of 2012, but lost most of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 to selling the farm that had been in my family for over two hundred years, my horses, moving to Aiken, and settling in. I finished the manuscript with the working title FLAMINGO ROAD  around August of 2014. I started the second in the series in October of 2014.

My agent began shopping FLAMINGO ROAD in December of 2014. An editor at St. Martins Minotaur showed interest in FLAMINGO ROAD, but with some reservations about the public’s interest in a horse racing novel. I immediately went to work. Phone calls and research provided me with statistics on the surprisingly strong popularity of horse racing. I cited things like NBC’s unprecedented ten-year extension agreement to broadcast rights to the Breeders Cup weekend races as well as the eleven qualifying races that precede that two-day, all-star  event. I noted how a recent ESPN poll showed horse racing is the most popular non-team sport, beating out tennis, boxing, and even NASCAR! I managed to dig up and write two pages of statistics, and my agent sent them to the St. Martins’ editor.

Happily, less than a week after this, the Carrie McCray committee announced that my in-progress novel, the second of the Fia McKee series, had won their Best First-Chapter of a Novel award. How did this happen? When I moved to Aiken, I joined the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop, the state writer’s association, and got involved with the group.

Amazingly, that same week, my previously published Nikki Latrelle horse racing trilogy received a glorious endorsement from Steve Haskin, the senior Correspondent for the Blood-Horse, and a former national correspondent for the Daily Racing Form. The recipient of eighteen awards for excellence in turf writing, Haskin wrote, “Sasscer, the honor comes in your accomplishments and talent, and you should take great pride in such a magnificent trifecta. Congratulations!!! Well done. Dick Francis lives!” 


How did I get this 20015 endorsement? I befriended Haskin on Facebook in 2009, reading and commenting on his excellent posts and articles in the “Blood Horse,” for five years.

But the brightest star to align that very same week was a racehorse named American Pharoah. Deep in my heart, I’d believed if the colt could pull off the historical and momentous feat of winning the first Triple Crown in 37 years, it might nudge a publishing offer from St. Martins my way. White knuckled, I watched the final race. When American Pharoah blasted around the Belmont track on the lead, rocketed down the stretch, pulling away from the Belmont field, I screamed, “My God, he’s going to win!” 

And when he opened up even more and won by daylight, I wept. I turned to my husband and said, “I think I’m going to get an offer.” I could feel the bright star that is my love for horses rising over me. Pharoah’s race drew 22 million television viewers, and the subsequent radio, television, and social media attention was phenomenal. Within a week, American Pharoah appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and a day later, I received a two-book offer from St. Martins Minotaur.

Inspectors McChickens inspect Hill's Trilogy and ten pages
 of  St. Martin's contracts for the new two-book deal!

Never give up.
Learn your craft, but follow your heart.
Always be kind and gracious, you never know if the person sitting next to you, or posting on Facebook might be a key to unlock a door.
Know your market.
Join groups, but don’t let them take too much of your time.
Nothing is a important as writing.
Network, but do so within reason. See previous sentence.
When you go to meetings note (A) writers you like and admire. Now, note (B)writers you don’t like or admire. Tip: for heaven’s sake behave like the A writers!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Low Country Chapter of Romance Writers of America hosts author Sasscer Hill.

Incorporating Your Life Into Your Author’s World
Guest Speaker: Sasscer Hill
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Coosaw Creek Country Club, Ashley Room
Times: Luncheon at 11:30 a.m.; Speaker at 1:00 pm

Are you trying to kick start your first novel? Your fifth novel? Find a story idea, or plot? Are you overwhelmed by the concept of platform and branding?
Sasscer Hill will address these questions. She wants to provide you with motivation, and arm you with a couple of obvious weapons you may not even know you have. Sasscer writes horse racing mysteries. Her brand and platform is that she was a race horse owner, breeder, and rider for years. What is your platform as it relates to what you write?
Now that Sasscer is retired from the hands on business of horse racing, how does she continue to strengthen that brand? How can you?
Come on February 28 and help Sasscer find the ammunition you can use to jump start or strengthen your writing career.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Aiken Standard Interviews Sasscer Hill For Article on Self Publishing

Self-publishing has become a trend within the last few years.
1. Write a book. Remember, you make your own deadlines.
2. Edit. It is advised to get another party to do this, recommendly someone with editing experience.
3. Design. This includes cover art and formatting to the publication type.
4. Print. You can go through certain agencies to help finalize your book.
5. Market. Once your book is out, you have to make it known.
For more steps and information, visit www.selfpublishing.com.
Last year, the number of self-published titles increased by 59 percent. That’s 422 percent since 2007, according to information agency Bowker.
“The most successful self-publishers don’t view themselves as writers only but as business owners,” Beat Barbian, Bowker director of identifier services, said in a press release.
Some local authors that have chosen this route are David Tavernier, James Osbon and Sasscer Hill.
Hill has experience with both traditional publishing and self-publishing.
To date she has seven books. Some are novels, while the remaining are short stories.

This short story was self-published by local author Sasscer Hill.

Hill's first book, “Full Mortality,” was published in November 2010.
It took her years of rejection to get to that point.
“I sent out 40 query letters (before I found my agent),” Hill said.
Once she was interested, that agent had to go to work trying to attract attention to Hill’s novel.
The agent went to mainstream publishers with no success.
Finally, Hill met the publisher of Wildside Press, and he liked her book.
Wildside Press is an independent publisher based out of Maryland.
It has now published three of her books.
Her short stories are published with Wild Spirit Press – a company that Hill created.
She explains self-publishing simply as “you do it yourself,” she said.
She writes her stories in WordPerfect. Publishers often prefer submissions from Microsoft Word, she said.
With a publishing company, editors are often available.
When it comes to self-publishing, you are your own editor.
However, “you should have someone else do it,” Hill advised. “You never see your own mistakes, no matter how careful you are.”
This other person can be referred to as a “book doctor,” according to David Carnoy, CNET executive editor and self-published author.
He or she can be hired or be a friend.
If you hire an editor, you might be getting more than you expected.
“After I made the changes (my editor) suggested, he made some calls to agents he knew, and some were willing to take a look,” Carnoy wrote in his CNET article.
Ways to find an editor are to ask around, contact a local university or just look inside a published book.
Self-publishers have control over their covers.
Hill hired artists to produce some of her covers.
The process has been as simple as giving the designer a photo and letting him or her work with it; this was how the cover of her “Rare Highs, Killer Lows: True Tales from the Track” book was created.
When it comes to publishing with a mainstream company, you often have no say on your cover, Hill said.
For example, she was a fan of “The Sea Horse Trade” book cover but not so much of the “Racing from Death” one.
A piece of advice for producing your cover – make it look good small.
This mainly comes in handy when it comes to marketing and selling your book online.
“Your book has to stand out as a thumbnail image online because that’s how most people are going to come across it,” Carnoy wrote.
Which brings up one of the following issues – publishing a print book versus publishing digital one.
Hill did both for her novels. Her short stories – her self-published works – are only available as digital books, or e-books.
Three leading ebook manufacturers are Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Apple’s iPad.
There are many advantages found to ebook printing and e-books in general.
Local author Alice W. Ross finds e-readers – the device that holds the e-books – convenient.
“It’s so much easier to deal with and more economical,” she said.
Ross got her first Nook when they were released in 2009.
She loves the fact that you can download and store several books on one device and then take them to go.
Those editions are usually cheaper, too, than their print versions, she said.
This helps when it comes to selling your book, Carnoy pointed out.
There are certain requirements attached to publishing an e-book, though.
Ross said each e-book company has its own rules when it comes to formatting the book.
However, there are companies out there to help with this process.
SmashWord is a website Ross uses for this.
Ross’s book “The Pictorial Adventure” is only available as an e-book. This will also apply to her upcoming novel.
However, if you prefer to print, there are companies out there that will simply just print your manuscript for you, without taking control of your book.
For example, Tavernier published “Stories of the Rich and Famous” with OutSkirts Press, while Osbon published his book “Sand River” with Xlibris.
A function with each company is aiding self-publishers.
When your book is out, you have to get the word out about it.
“Marketing is all I do,” Hill said.
Ross and she use Facebook and Twitter to help make contact with readers and publicize their books and themselves.
They both have their own blogs, while Hill also has a website.
Hill also attends conferences regularly.
For more information on the self-publishing process, visit www.selfpublishing.com or http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-18438_http://cnet.co/KHB59y.

Read more: E-books offer authors alternative to traditional publishing process | Aiken Standard 
Follow us: @aikenstandard on Twitter | aikenstandard on Facebook

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

RARE HIGHS and KILLER LOWS: True Tales from the Track

"RARE HIGHS AND KILLER LOWS: True Tales from the Track," Now Available on Amazon!   

“Rare Highs and Killer Lows” contains four true stories from the life of racing mystery author Sasscer Hill. Share the experiences that allow Hill to write her fiction with both authority and passion. 

From the gutsy racing filly whose tongue was sliced in half, to the colt who beat the odds by living, these stories give the reader a true insider look at what goes on behind the scenes in the world of Thoroughbred racing.

Note: these stories appeared here for a short time, but have been unavailable for more than three years. Now, you can read them all together!

 See more:     http://tinyurl.com/n8dj78m

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Loaded with luggage and hungry, I arrived at the Albany Hilton late Wednesday. Imagine my delight to see old friends from the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime at a long table chowing down on pasta, salads, and steaks. I sat, the waiter came, and I pointed at Barb Goffman and said, “I’ll have what she’s having,” a bowl loaded with garlic pasta, sun roasted tomatoes, and shrimp. Yum!

Off to my room, where in the morning, I discovered I had a terrific view of the city. 

I schlepped my books up to the Empire Plaza,
Photo courtesy of Rhonda Lane
found my bookseller, and set up my titles.  

After some meet and greet,I zipped back to the hotel for an early lunch and twenty minute lie down before the afternoon panel. 

The panel was titled, "BALLAD OF BILLY THE KID: Writing Characters That Do What They Want," and it was awesome. I shared the stage with authors Sandra Brannan, Tricia Fields, mega writer Joe Lansdale, and Duane Swierczynski. Standing room only and sure do wish I had a picture of that panel! 
Joe Lansdale

Thursday night, my buddy Barb Goffman won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story! 

So I had to go out and party with Reed Farrel Coleman, Kate Pilarcik, Frank de Blase and dance with Laura Lippman, 

 and David Housewright and who knows who all until I almost collapsed. The band was great and played one rock and roll dance number after another. I might have had a few too many bourbons because my hotel room circled around oddly upon my return and I had an exquisite headache in the morning. All worth it! No question.

Friday I spent part of the day recovering, then met Margaret Maron, Laurie King, Louise Penney, and my buddy Rhonda Lane for drinks in the Albany Hilton hotel. Another failed photo opportunity. Rhonda and I rushed off with some other writers and fans for the Dorothy L. Dinner at the Pump House. 
The lovely and talented Sandra Parshal in pink!

Part of the Dorothy L crowd at the Pump House

It was fun, but after that, I went to bed early to rest up for my two additional Saturday panels.

First was, “IF I ONLY HAD THE WORDS TO TELL YOU:  Four-Legged Sleuthing.”

 Pictured: authors: Katherine O’Sullivan, Spencer Quinn, Neil S. Plakcy, Clea Simon, Sasscer Hill and moderator Carole Shmurak.  

Followed later that afternoon by my favorite panel, the one I moderated, “NOBODY KNOWS BUT ME: Writing a Book Is Like Making Sausage; Lots of Stuff Goes In.”  

 Me, presenting fabulous authors  Joe Samuel Starnes, Ariel Winter, Charles O’Brien, Roger Ellory, and Andrew Grant.

 Don't you think that Andrew is just as handsome as his older brother, Lee Child? I did.

Saturday night, my idol Sue Grafton spoke
 All my panels were over and it was time to play. So we did. Kate Pilarcik, the fabulous marketer and promoter had us pretend to be waiting in trepidation for our awards announcements, then respond to the overwhelming news that we had won! This occurred as we sat in the auditorium after Grafton and before the Anthony Awards. We had to do something while we waited

Rhonda Lane, Sasscer Hill, David Housewright, and Kate Pilarcik.

Go here to see who won the Anthony Awards: http://hosted.verticalresponse.com/357288/218d3bc941/1451077479/8de4e76103/

After the Anthonies, everyone’s palms were so sore from clapping that we descended en mass upon the Hilton Bar and drank like only crime writers can drink. We had fun, too.
Program Chair, our beloved Judy Bobalik 

Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sasscer Hill, and Mollie Cox Bryan

Award winning authors, David Housewright and Hank Phillippi Ryan

Vamping it up with Joelle Charbonneau, Kate Pilarcik, and forgive me fourth lady, I never got your name!

Sunday morning everyone was feeling the end of summer camp blues. 
Tired and facing the trip home, the amazing Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International and Mystery Readers Journal

Everyone was dragging and for the record, Janet usually looks like this 

Tired or not, we are already planning for next year’s BoucherCon in Long beach, CA!

                                                     MURDER AT THE BEACH!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writers Police Academy: Part 3 The Bomb!

Sasscer Hill hanging with the Bomb Robot. I thought he was very cute and suspected he had a predilection for hot women with explosive tempers.

Note the double barrels. When in doubt, blow the bomb up!
 Then I saw what else he could do after the bomb dog alerted to the backpack bomb! 

Keep in mind, this dude can "sniff," shoot pictures, X-Ray and relay all the info back.
Get that bomb out a here!

             Fully suited Bomb Tech attaches fuse to bomb.

 Bomb tech, the crew, bomb dog, and remains of back pack.

Bomb Dog gets a treat!


                              Yeah, we showed 'em!