A Lesson In Persistence
My story will inspire you to push on, if nothing else will. I'm probably the longest aspiring author to finally get published. My journey took 18 years. I wrote my first novel in 1982. Although my third or fourth novels came close to getting published with Harlequin, they didn't quite make it. My first published novel was actually the ninth one I'd written. Although I now have a great agent with whom I signed with her two years ago, I had 2 agents before becoming published: one retired; the other gave up. So I made my sales on my own.
I'd like to tell any aspiring authors who are frustrated because it's taking them 3, 4, 5 or more years to get that first contract, remember: I wrote for 18 years before getting the call so never give up!
I thought the way to publication would be to write short stories and get recognition that way, but my former journalism prof told me to forget that, and write a novel. The idea scared me to death, but he sent me titles of a bunch of how-to books, and I hunkered down and began. I quit my full time job, a bold move, and started the first draft of my first novel in 1981, at age 24.
Although I wrote and worked hard for many years, toward the very end, a year before my publication, I'd begun to realize publication wasn't my destiny, so I chose another endeavor. I started studying for a master's degree in archaeology.
Writing = Inventory
Because I kept writing through all those years of rejection, I've amassed quite an inventory. I love American history, so I've written a few books set in the U.S. – Colonial, Civil War, turn of the century, Prohibition, and the early 1960s. I've also written a few paranormals – ghost novels and time travels. My latest work is a chick lit vampire romance set on an Italian cruise ship. (I'd love to write a biography of Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City, who was very good friends with my great grandmother in the 1930s. If only she'd kept a journal!)
I wouldn't be published if it wasn't for the internet. I met many great authors and made some wonderful friends at RWA and RT conferences, and I also increased my confidence to great levels at the editor/agent appointments.
Networking on the Internet helped me achieve my goal of publication. That's where I met my publisher, through Lisa Hamilton, another author I'd met on the CompuServe Romance Forum.
What I Learned
What surprised me most about the publishing business is that it's very hard to be recognized. You really have to work on promotion as well as writing. I've read many differing opinions on this, but I do believe you should promote as much as time allows, without taking away writing time. I have a website, a mailing list, and attend as many signings and conferences as possible.
But you have to be realistic; it's not easy to shoot up to #1. I'd had delusions of being on talk shows and seeing my name on the NYT bestseller lists after my first novel.
I take a year to finish a book, between research and writing. I've never had a deadline from a publisher, but I'd once sent an agent the first 3 chapters of my vampire romance. He said he'd like to see the entire ms., so I wrote ,5000 words a day til it was finished. He later rejected it. Oh, well. But at least I know I'm capable of turning out 5,000 words a day. My usual output is 2,500 words a day.
My Writing Advice
I never feel as if I have enough information to convey at a workshop, but I can tell aspiring authors this:
1. make the opening a grabber
2. make the characters compelling and interesting
3. make the reader care about the characters so they'll keep reading
4. make the novel well-structured so it doesn't have a sagging middle or pacing problems
5. make the stakes high and not easily achieved
6. make the secondary characters real, not mere cardboard
7. humor always helps.
My Last Advice
Keep believing, and keep the faith! And of course, keep writing, because you'll only get better. And never give up on your dream!