Starting Down the Road to Publication

I’ll be honest, my road to publication has been relatively short and bump-free…and as such pretty uninteresting. But where it began might be a little different to most, and is certainly pretty funny, so I thought I’d share that for this month’s theme.

I’ve been reading romance novels since I was eleven or twelve (when I only barely understood the steamy bits) so it was perhaps no surprise that I decided to have my first go at writing on when I was 16, in ~1999. At the time I was buying and reading a lot of historical romances from a line that was sold exclusively at K-Mart (Kansas childhood, y’all). I could swear it was Kensington, but now that I know more about this industry I think that must be wrong? Or maybe they had a K-Mart specific line back then?

Anyway, I loved those books, and I was sitting in my 10th-grade World History class when it occurred to me to write one. I adored history and had vague ambitions of majoring in it in college, and my second-favorite subject was English. Surely a historical romance was the perfect marriage of the two!

Paintings of historical heroes are never quite as sexy as they are in the books.

Paintings of historical heroes are never quite as sexy as they are in the books.

I bet the notebook containing my original handwritten draft still remains somewhere in my parents’ house, but for now my spotty memory will have to do. It was set during the English Civil War in the 17th century. The heroine was called Meredith and I think the hero was Thomas. Thomas was the farmhand on Meredith’s Royalist father’s estate, until he joined up to fight for the Parliamentary army. Meredith’s father wanted to marry her off to a rich and obviously totally evil Royalist, over whom Thomas would ultimately triumph.

Because I was and still remain quite an impatient person, as soon as I’d finished the first three chapters (by which point I believe Meredith had been shouted at by her father and shared a romantic moment with Thomas in a field), I typed them up and mailed them off to the publisher. I wrote a little bit more in the notebook, but lost interest and moved on, leaving the store unfinished and forgotten.

Imagine my surprise when, many months later, a form letter arrived thanking me for my submission and requesting the rest of the manuscript! Of which of course there was none. And that’s where the story comes to an abrupt end – I didn’t even attempt to finish writing the book, just stuffed the letter into the bottom of a drawer, so embarrassed that I hadn’t taken the process seriously and certain this would ruin my future writing career forever. I mean, this would go on my permanent record as a writer, wouldn’t it? Next time I submitted anything they surely had some super-smart database that would cross-reference my name, flag that I never followed through on the submission and generate an auto rejection.

Turns out that wasn’t quite true, but it didn’t matter. My sense of guilt convinced me never to submit anything until it was 100% finished (not bad advice, really). The only problem was the next time I 100% finished something was eight years later, when I was 24.

That later project garnered both an agent and a rejection from Harlequin, an experience which inspired another five-year writing hiatus. Nonetheless it seems the end of my road owes a lot to the beginning. Without that hard lesson in planning and follow-through – as well as the positive result of my bravery at even submitting – I probably never would’ve bothered writing anything for submission all those years later. But I learned not only to dare, but to dare a little more carefully, and it’s certainly paid off in the end.

Now, if only someone could point me toward the on-ramp to the road toward bestseller status…!