This was a tougher post to write than I thought it would be when I first looked at it. But after 16 days of other posts of authors sharing their advice, everything I had heard has pretty much been said. So I sat down with my husband and we discussed some of the advice I had heard. Oh sure, there was the time about ten years ago, when I first ventured online to seek out other writers, I encountered a writing group owner who insisted that you must never ever use the word “was” in your manuscript. That if you used it anywhere in your manuscript, but especially on first page/first ten pages/first chapter/first half of the book, an editor or agent would automatically reject it. While it’s true was can be a sign of passive writing, to banish it completely from use often makes for stilted writing. I had heard before that you should look at debut authors to see what editors are buying, so I picked up a couple books from my bookshelf and thumbed through the first pages. Despite what the instructor said, there were lots of ‘was’ (how do you make was plural? wases?) present. I, uh, got kicked out of her group when I pointed this out.
But her advice was reasonably easy to ignore because I felt comfortable with my grammar and my sentence structure. Especially when I heard another multipublished author say that whenever someone mentions “the rules” and says you “must follow them” blindly, to thank them and run out of the room.
What was harder to ignore — and I still have problems ignoring — is the “You’ll never get published, and if you do you won’t do well. Not against so many better writers. Established authors. Literary big names. Why even waste your time?” advice I heard … well, from a lot of people. But there were certain people in my life at the time who held a lot of sway and convinced me that writing was a waste of time and effort and that I was destined to fail before I even tried. Which probably explains why it took until I was in my mid-40s before I got up the courage to show my writing to anyone. Even my husband.
Luckily for me just after that, I met a woman on an online group. As we conversed over the months I found out she was seeking publication, and I hesitantly admitted I liked to write, but wasn’t looking to get published. Becky encouraged me to join a writers’ group. “Just for fun,” she said. “And if you learn something along the way that improves your writing, it’s all good, right?”
So I joined a local group and about a year or so later, I gathered up my courage and submitted my manuscript to be part of a cold read. That’s where an editor and an agent read (and critique) an author’s manuscript in front of a roomful of other authors. It can be humiliating and terrifying. Out of 40 manuscripts they read that day, they only said they’d wanted to read more of two authors’ work. Mine was one of the two. “Sure,” I said to myself,” they say they want to read more now, but do you really want to open yourself to more criticism?” So I ignored it and moved on. A few months later another editor who was a member of my writers’ group phoned me and encouraged me to submit to a new line Harlequin was starting up when I realized that maybe, just maybe, it was time to take my writing seriously.
When I tentatively broached the subject about seriously pursuing a writing career, my husband was 100% behind me and encouraged me. Standing right beside him (literally) was my eldest son who had taken my little pep talk about him finding a way to get paid for something he loved to do anyway and turned it back on me. Smart kid, wasn’t he?
Eighteen months later, I was offered my first contract — by Angela James, who is still my editor to this day.
With self-publishing taking off, and the number of books and authors I have to compete against for my books to get any sort of attention these days, with all the concern over rankings and royalties, marketing, platforms and social media, sometimes it’s hard to ignore that little doubting voice that still insinuates itself into my psyche. Not just because that first person is still negative and talks about how I write trash, and anyone can get published these days, and blah blah blah.
But then I look up at these:
and my latest…
along with all my Hauberk Protection covers, remind myself “I can do it” and “she’s wrong!”, turn back to my computer and slowly, and doggedly, press on…