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September 27, 2004: Another Route to Publication
Laurie asked if I’d like to do a journal like Marianne Stillings did about her sale and publication, and I did not hesitate to say yes. Although I am an infrequent participant, I feel very much like part of the AAR family. I’ve been reading romances (mostly Regencies) since the mid-nineties and have been deeply involved with Jane Austen since long, long before that (see me at The Republic of Pemberley). Toward the end of 2001, I decided to try my hand at my own Regency and, I have my first traditional Regency Romance coming out in May of 2005. Here’s how it happened.
I finished my first manuscript late in 2001 and Sandy, my critique-partner-beyond-price, very gently told me that she thought it might be a manuscript-beyond-redemption. Well, she didn’t say that, precisely, but I knew what she meant. In fact, I knew in my heart that this was my practice book. So, I put it in a drawer and took from it every lesson I could learn.
I finished my second traditional Regency, The Course of True Love. I knew this one was much better than the first. At least, I knew where the point of view was and that it had a plot. And I really liked the characters. I hated the title. I’m terrible at titles, but I figured that if a publisher would buy the book, they’d give it a new title anyway.
I entered The Course of True Love in some RWA sponsored contests. It won The Jasmine in the Historical category and came thisclose to finalling in the Royal Ascot (it was fourth). It finalled in a couple of other contests and I was beginning to think that maybe I could write.
I pitched The Course of True Love to Signet and Zebra at the New Jersey Romance Writers’ conference in October. Both houses asked to see it and both rejected it. But they sent really great rejection letters. In their own way, the rejections were more encouraging than the contest results.
By this time I had decided that my next manuscript would be a Regency-set historical. The heroine was a gift from my first, failed, attempt. She was a worldly wise widow - the "other woman" in my first manuscript - and she'd run roughshod over my milk-sop heroine, wresting control of the plot from my poor, inexperienced hands.
In May I was laid off from a job I’d had for a many years and loved. After a month of mourning, I decided to look at the free time as the gift it was. It took me a while to get the routine. There are hundreds of little tasks that fill up a day. I began to wonder how I ever found time to go to an office. But, I was determined to use the time to write.
.... and so passed 2003
I entered the first chapter(s) of Something Like a Heart in a couple of RWA chapter contests. The feedback was uniformly critical of my heroine. She wasn’t sympathetic enough. And, taking another look at her, I had to admit she was kind of whiney and self-centered. I used the feedback to re-work the beginning and my heroine. I’m here to tell you that, win or not, good contest feedback is worth the price of admission.
Something Like a Heart wasn’t completed, but it was close, so I pitched to Zebra for their Historical line at the New England Romance Writers’ Conference (my home chapter). The editor asked to see a full manuscript, and I went home and wrote like crazy. At that moment, I was relieved not to have a job.
I cranked out the last four chapters in about a week and revised (twice), passed it to my critique partner and my first readers, and revised some more. Although my inclination is always to keep editing, I finally decided to let it go.
April 28 – My friend Linda talked me into sending the manuscript to Kensington by Fed-Ex. She treated me to the shipping.
April 29 – I got back from lunch with some friends and found a message on my answering machine: “Hi this is _______ from Kensington Books. I think Something Like a Heart is terrific and I’d like to buy it. Call me.”
Holy Hannah! The woman can’t have had the thing for more than five hours. How fast does she read? How high is her slush pile? How fast can I dial that phone?
Dialed. Talked. Asked what I hoped were all the right questions. It turns out she wanted to buy Something Like a Heart as a Traditional Regency. Could I cut 15,000 words, including the love scenes and, oh yeah, remove that reference to nipples on page three? I agreed to sell Zebra this book and a second trad for Christmas.
I hung up the phone, called everyone I know, then packed and went to England to meet my friend Julie and attend a conference at the University of York on Women and Country House that we had registered for months ago.
Coming up –
Editing the manuscript down to a trad and what happened next.
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