This past few weeks, I’ve posted a few perhaps-too-brutally-honest comments and/or answers to questions on my local RWA Chapter’s e-loop — Toronto Romance Writers. Yesterday, something dawned on me. In my attempts to be honest… To share what I’d learned about the industry over the past four years – lots of it depressing – I may have inadvertently discouraged some newer members of our group. Writers who still have visions of being plucked from slush piles dancing in their heads. Writers who think self-publishing will bring them fame and fortune (or even satisfaction). (Okay, these things happen… People win lotteries, too.)
I didn’t/don’t mean to be discouraging… If I was, I’m very, very sorry.
And it got me thinking…
I’m glad no one told me how hard getting published would be, because if I’d known, I might not have started. (Not a risk taker by nature… my first career was in accounting and even though I realized I was going to hate it in my first year of University… I didn’t actually stop doing it until I was so burned out and depressed I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.)
Time to be honest with myself. People did tell me how hard getting published would be, but I didn’t completely believe them. I started out on this whole novel writing journey (did I just use that heinous reality TV word, “journey”?) by taking a class at Ryerson University. And the class was good. And the instructor told us it would be hard… And told us how little writing actually paid for most published authors…
But… I somehow didn’t think this bad news applied to me. Was I arrogant? Probably. But I had reasons:
- I’d been told I had talent — high school English teacher, creative writing professor at UC Berkeley, my mommy. (I didn’t know at the time that 90% of us trying to do this have similar stories of encouragement to tell…)
- I know I’m pretty smart – again, lots of smart people doing this… Who knew? (by the way the media often portrays authors of women’s fiction, it’s easy to be mislead)
- I am lucky. (When I look at my life, I’ve always been pretty lucky.)
So, when I heard that most people complete several manuscripts before they sell, but that some writers actually sell their first book – I just assumed I’d fit into group two. I was going to sell my first book and it would be a huge smash and I’d be on my way to earning a modest living from writing within a year – 18 months tops. I gave myself 2 years to be safe. (remember the not-a-risk-taker confession?) I had a plan.
In May 2002, I simultaneously started taking the novel-writing course and actually writing my first novel, a series romance aimed at no particular series (those of you in-the-know are seeing the red flags already!). In February 2003, about one-third – maybe halfway? – into the book, I selected a line at Harlequin to target. How? Did I do research on the lines? Read lots of them? No… I picked it solely because an editor from that line was attending a TRW meeting and was willing to hear pitches.
I pitched. She asked for chapters. Yippee! I was on my way to the big time. I pushed through and finished my manuscript in March or April 2003, so that it would be ready to go when the editor (without a doubt) called to beg me for the full manuscript. Imagine my surprise when she didn’t.
But she did give me some good feedback and criticism, so I decided to revise… After messing around with that opus for another 6 months or so, and submitting it to another line at Harlequin (I changed my title… I’m a very bad girl) I finally figured out how to just let it go.
My writing was getting better. I was pushing myself. Attending workshops and conferences. Reading books on craft. Learning from my critique partners. Learning from contest feedback. Figuring out that romance heroines (especially at Harlequin) actually have to be nice… My next book would be better. I tucked the first one into a drawer.
Sadly, I chose the now defunct Harlequin Flipside* line for my next manuscript attempt. I never even got a chance to submit manuscript #2 before the line was cancelled – but ms #2 was better. People told me it was better. I could tell it was better. It placed in a couple of big contests (and bombed in some others). I had grown a bit of a voice! About time.
Speaking of time… Is anyone keeping track? Yes. By the time I had finished this second manuscript and found out it was dead in the water before even getting a chance to launch, it was 2004. MY TWO YEARS WERE UP! (I think the announcement of the line cancellation actually happened the same month that my personal publish deadline expired. Slit wrists were considered…)
So, what did I do? Did I go back to my much-hated career in business and accounting? Did I try to find another path to follow? No. I started backpedaling with all the people I’d revealed my two-year limit to… (family, friends – myself)
And started writing another book.
That third manuscript THE MISEDUCATION OF APRIL HILLSON, got me signed with a fabulous agent, Pamela Harty, and finalled in the Stiletto contest. I don’t have a book deal inked yet, but I’m super hopeful and guess what? Yup! Working on my fourth and fifth manuscripts.
May 2006 marked the fourth anniversary of my momentous decision to become a published author. Is it harder than I thought it would be? You bet. Do I wish I hadn’t started? NO WAY!
I’m glad no one told me how hard it would be… Correction. I’m glad I didn’t believe them.