Five years ago, when I’d just finished my first manuscript, a young woman from my writing group here in New Zealand received “the call”. I was insanely happy for her, and thought at the time that if she’d sold so fast maybe it wouldn’t be long before I sold too. How naïve I was! That lovely young woman happens to be USA Today bestselling author Natalie Anderson (www.natalie-anderson.com) , and she ended up being an incredibly close friend and the best writing buddy a girl could ask for. What I’m proud to say is that as Natalie hit send on her 16th manuscript for Harlequin Mills & Boon, I finally received the call!
My journey to publication has been a fairly typical one, and it sure came with plenty of ups and downs. When I sold, I’d completed approximately 10 manuscripts (not all romance) and my ‘apprenticeship’ was crucial. Had I sold five years ago when I first starting dreaming of becoming a Harlequin author, I would have been over the moon. But in hindsight, I’m so pleased that I honed my craft and developed my voice over those years, because I can honestly say that my first book is my absolute strongest writing to date.
I’ve always written romance, but it did take me a few years to find my niche. I’d always enjoyed reading Silhouette Desire-type stories, however it soon became apparent that my writing voice didn’t suit those sexy, larger than life stories. And then I picked up my first Harlequin Romance . . . suddenly everything clicked. I lost myself in the stories of cowboys and ranchers, soldiers and law enforcement men, and I realised I wanted to write the kind of emotional, real romance I was now reading about.
Fast forward a few years, and a couple of heartbreaking yet encouraging rejections later, and I’d just finished the first chapter of a soldier story. A story that had been begging to be written for months. My incentive to polish up this chapter was due to a contest being run as part of the Romance Writers of New Zealand annual conference. At the time, Harlequin Mills & Boon believed they wouldn’t be able to send out an editor to attend, so they generously sponsored a first chapter contest. There were no preliminary judges, all the entries were to be sent to then Senior Editor for Harlequin Romance Kimberley Young and editor Lucy Gilmour. To say I was excited about being chosen as one of the winners by such fantastic judges would be an understatement! The only problem was that the prize involved my emailing them the full of my manuscript. Did I mention that a condition of entry was that the manuscript had to be complete?
The next two weeks were the most gruelling of my life. Hours on end spent in front of my laptop to complete the draft. The day before I jumped on a plane to attend the conference, I emailed the manuscript off, thinking to myself that the only reason I’d been able to finish it so fast was because it was truly the book of my heart.
Seven weeks later, I received the kind of email I’d only dreamt of before. A two-page revision letter from an editor named Carly Corcoran, saying that “while this isn’t an offer to publish, I’d be happy for you to make the changes and email the manuscript back to me direct for reconsideration.”
Another power-writing marathon ensued. I printed out the manuscript and covered it in post-it notes with handwritten changes everywhere. Then I sent the revisions back and waited. And waited some more.
In the meantime, I won a contest run by Harlequin Romance author Donna Alward, with the prize being Donna herself as a mentor for the year. She encouraged me to get stuck into the next manuscript. Why? Because if Harlequin offered me a contract I had to have another story ready to pitch, and if they didn’t want to buy me, she wanted me to knock their socks off with my next submission.
Ten months later, and with my nails chewed down to nothing, I received an email. Carly, the editor who had sent me the revision letter, wondered if it might be convenient to call me, only she was concerned that it would be too late. Could I email her back and let her know? Unfortunately the time difference between London and New Zealand is 12 hours, so when she sent it I was tucked up in bed. With shaky fingers I replied that she would be most welcome to call me that next night, after 9:30pm if possible, but “I’ll be up all night so call as late as you like” or something silly like that.
I was a nervous wreck all day, and it was my mother’s birthday. That meant we were going out for dinner with her, hence my asking the editor to call after 9:30. We had a lovely dinner, although we didn’t jinx the call by toasting anything, or even talking about it too much. Because it might not be “the call”, right?
Wrong. It was “the call” but I almost missed it. On our way home, carefully scheduled so we’d arrive at least 15 minutes before Carly was due to call, there was a horse loose on the road. We live on a rural property, and being a horse lover I couldn’t not stop. So my husband and I joined a few other good Samaritans and managed to deal with the horse in the pitch dark until the police arrived. But imagine my heartbreak when we arrived home 10 minutes late and there was a message on the phone. I’d missed her call.
Thankfully the phone rang again about 30 minutes later, and I’ll never forget how divine that English accent sounded on the other end of the line. After exchanging pleasantries, Carly told me that both she and the senior editor of Harlequin Romance loved my story and my writing, and they wanted to offer me a two-book contract. Was I interested? You bet!
So in one event-filled night I went from dreaming of a career as an author to selling my very first book. And it couldn’t have felt better. I’d had a bottle of bubbly in the fridge “just in case” for almost a year, hoping to celebrate one day soon, but being almost 20-weeks pregnant meant I could only have a few sips.
So while the 12 month wait seemed like forever at the time, and the five years or so of writing furiously, hoping to be published, seemed like they’d never end, now it feels like no time passed at all. Because when I received the call at the end of August, I realised it had all been worth it.
If you’re dreaming of being published, if the rejections seem too tough or the waits too long, I have only one piece of advice. Stop writing, if you can, because it gets harder. But if you truly want to succeed and be an author, and you can’t not write, then you need to toughen up, write as much and as often as you can, and put your heart on the line by submitting your work and entering contests. Because it’s all worth it when you finally sell that first book ☺