A dozen years ago I wrote a story called The Poppy and the Pomegranate. It was never published— oh, it needed a lot of work, and back then I didn't know the many rules to writing in the romance genre. I didn't even know that there was such a thing as a "word count" requirement. And I typed with double spaces after all my periods and extra returns between all my paragraphs! Heaven forbid. That was how I was taught to write and type, of course.
I'd been taught all wrong.
But in my hopeful, newbie naiveté, I sent queries out to a few literary agents. I loved my story and my characters, particularly the two leads — Griff and Maddy. I just wanted to be a writer and thought that if I put a good story down on paper it didn't matter about silly things like POV and "head-hopping", how many characters got to tell their thoughts, or how many words I used to tell the story. After all, I'd grown up reading those doorstop-sized tomes by Judith Krantz, James Michener and Barbara Taylor-Bradford. Those epic stories were a different breed and belonged to another time in publishing, but I didn't know that. I'd also grown up with the classics— Austen, Bronte, Hardy and Du Maurier. Not that I thought I could compare to any of those writers, but they inspired me to try. I wanted to entertain people with my stories, the way those authors had always entertained me, even so many years after they were created.
Well, I did get some interest from agents. Several asked to see the entire manuscript and I sent it off— great piles of paper in manuscript boxes, because this was before we all went "green" and email became the preferred method for submissions. One by one the rejections came back. Usually two lines typed on posh-looking letterhead. Occasionally it was just my original cover letter with a big "NO" penned in the margins between the arc of a coffee mug stain and a cream cheese smear. Sometimes it was just my letter of inquiry, refolded and mailed back to me. I often wondered what happened to all those piles of manuscript paper I mailed to them. Were they ever looked at? I hope they were recycled!
For a while I kept my rejection letters— a curious form of self-punishment, I suppose— but that pile soon got too large and too humiliating. Two house moves later and it's long gone.
So is that original manuscript.
Over the years since, Griff and Maddy's story changed many times. But the two main characters have not. They stayed just as I first wrote them and they live clearly in my mind, like old friends. Only their story has morphed into something quite different to the way it began. It had to change, because although I wanted to tell a story, the publishing folks weren't buying the one I'd written.
So I started over.
Catching a submission editor's interest requires many things your English teacher never told you about. You need a hook, a first paragraph, first sentence, that makes them stop and take their finger off the delete button. You need to know how to write an eye-catching query letter that hits all the bases, yet still leaves them wanting more. In a few short paragraphs. In the body of an email. Addressed to the correct person. With a polite, carefully worded salutation —nothing cheesy. No fancy fonts.
And no attachments unless they ask for it. Don't you know that already?
I've applied to colleges and for jobs with less requirements to remember.
But if you want to be a published writer you also have to become a marketing guru with more shine and stubborn resilience than those strands of hair sprayed down over Donald Trump's head. They don't want just a writer. They want a brand. A sharp, tough, professional business person who won't annoy them, harass them or embarrass them. It takes perseverance and a hard head to get through that door and prove you're not their worst nightmare. You have to be hopeful and confident enough to put yourself out there, but you have to know when not to bug that person who is holding your manuscript in their sweaty, powerful hands while they ponder over its — and your—marketability.
As a would-be writer you get advice from everyone. Even when you don't think you need it.
Here's mine: Acquire a tough skin that lets the insults bounce off, because you will get a lot throughout your career. It's part of the territory. Grow up, put on your big girl breeches and realize that you'll never be everyone's cup of tea. And it's probably just as well. A swelled head is not becoming in this industry. No one has time for a diva. Creativity, hard work and professionalism are necessities. Publishing is a surprisingly small world and everyone knows everyone, so it's good to be polite too, watch what you say. Write every day. Learn when to let it go and don't be a "helicopter" parent.
And that's another thing.
I know people say that every parent thinks their child is the cutest, smartest pumpkin ever. Well, all writers feel that way about their work when they start out. But they soon learn that it's not productive to think that way and it's also quite soul-destroying if you cling to that idea. My work is not the greatest thing ever written, yet it's still important to me and I'm proud of it. I still think of each book as a child I've produced, but I don't create genius children. I'm learning with every book I write.
Twelve years ago, when I wrote the first draft of Maddy and Griff's story, I was just beginning a long education in the world of publishing.
This is a world of splinter-short attention spans. The story that winds itself up to a slow conclusion like a long, leisurely, bending country road is almost extinct, so I've been told. At least, it is in the romance genre. Writers are advised that readers don't have time any more to sit down and open a book that contains much more than 90,000 words. They want fewer pages, but more dialogue; more sex, but fewer characters; less internal monologue and detail, but fully developed, three-dimensional characters.
Readers want that happily ever after and the publishing industry prefers that it comes neatly packaged within a fairly rigid structure— a plot or trope that's well-tried and a proven seller. Somewhere writers have to find a balance between the marketer's comfort zone and the reader's right not to be bored.
When I finally acquired an agent she changed the title of my romance to "Seducing the Beast". My sisters laughed their pants off, but I swallowed my pride and said, in a very small voice, "ok". I was willing to do whatever it took to get this manuscript looked at and not just passed over in the slush pile. Eventually, I parted company with my agent, but I kept the title she'd given me and went on to get Seducing the Beast contracted, then published. It was a long road (yep, one of those winding, lingering roads "they" don't like in books any more) and I learned a great deal along the way.
Maddy and Griff's story became a series, as I followed first Maddy's brother and then her daughter to their own happy-ever-afters. I had never imagined, twelve years ago, that this would become a series, or that so many strangers would get to read my work and enjoy it.
A lot has changed since I typed the first sentence of the first draft. My writing, my life, my outlook— and even the publishing world itself has endured a few rocky changes to which they're still adapting. But Maddy and Griff are just what they were when I started. Like true friends they've been with me through it all, stayed genuine to the people they were when we all started out together, and because of that I know they'll always be special to me.
I didn't say they were perfect, but they're still my babies and I'm proud of them!
The Taming the Tudor Male in Three Easy Lessons series is now available in e-book and in print.
1. Seducing the Beast
2. Once a Rogue
3. The Savage and the Stiff Upper Lip.