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From the Heart

Persistence Pays



Persistence Pays


By Annie West

Did you notice all the news lately of so many acceptances by RWAustralia members? I did. And I was struck by the fact that many of those acquiring success overnight (or in the space of time it takes to read THE email or get THE call) were not new writers. Many had long histories as writers.

Read more about new Harlequin Downunder writers Anne Oliver, Kelly Hunter, Fiona Lowe, Annie West, Maxine Sullivan and Tessa Radley

Did you notice all the news lately of so many acceptances by RWAustralia members? I did. And I was struck by the fact that many of those acquiring success overnight (or in the space of time it takes to read THE email or get THE call) were not new writers. Many had long histories as writers.

So then came the inevitable questions. Why that person? Why now? What made the difference to their writing career? That difference between aspiring and contracted author.

No—there's no simple, single answer. Sorry.

But for those members who read the monthly reports of new acceptances with delight and just that little tinge of envy (or even a big dollop of it), here are what a few of the newly contracted authors had to say. All have been writing for years. Between us we total 64 years of writing experience. Okay—you can say it—we were slow learners. But hopefully that experience has taught us something useful. Maybe useful enough to help you on your own journey to publication and beyond. Apart from anything, take heed to the fact that persistence does pay off, if you're willing to learn and adapt as you go.

Anne Oliver has been writing for eight years. She's written paranormal, time travel, fantasy and category romances. 'Behind Closed Doors...' will be released as a Harlequin Mills and Boon Modern Extra Sensual in August-September 2006 in the UK.

What kept you going for so long?
My first two books were books of my heart and writing was an outlet for my thoughts and emotions. Then I guess I was addicted. The other things that kept me at it were my critique groups and writers' conferences andthe fact that I hate giving up something without finishing it.

Did you ever give up writing?
I came close when my single titles that I loved got rejected a couple of times.

What made the difference to overcoming that final hurdle and getting accepted?
I think it was timing. I was seriously considering not writing any more but couldn't bring myself to put it all away after so long.

Anything you wish you'd done (or not done) earlier in your writing career?
I wish I'd started writing earlier!

Kelly Hunter has been writing on and off for 10 years and has been seriously targeting romance for the last seven. Her debut novel, 'Wife For A Week', is a UK March 2006 release for Harlequin Mills and Boon Modern Extra Sensual.

What kept you going for so long?
Anything from an encouraging remark from a competition judge, to the fun of attending writing conferences, to the knowledge that I really wanted to write books. Not literary fiction, not crime thrillers, but those much maligned and unfashionably uplifting ROMANCE books.

Did you ever give up?
No.

What made the difference to me overcoming that final hurdle and getting accepted?
A different approach. For the first time ever, I sat down and decided on a line BEFORE I wrote the story. I wrote to my strengths (I had a fair idea of what they were—we are talking ten years of practice here), followed the guidelines, and was astonished at how easily it all fel l into place.

Is there anything you wish you'd done (or not done) earlier in your writing career?
Yup. I wish I'd become more closely involved with the RWA earlier. I wish I'd had a better understanding of the publishing industry from the start. I wish I'd heard Nora Roberts speak in Sydney. And I really, really wish I'd won the Emma Darcy!

Fiona Lowe has been writing medicals for ten years, while living in Australia and the USA. She's recently had three novels accepted as Harlequin Mills & Boon Medicals. The first, 'Pregnant on Arrival', is due for Australian release in August 2006.

What kept you going for so long?
In the end it was sheer bloody mindedness. I had postgraduate university qualifications with honours. By God, I wasn't going to fail this writing gig! With my third full manuscript rejection I received a 'with compliments' slip and an invitation to submit again. That was a big turning point emotionally for me...that story wasn't right for them but they liked how I wrote. So for the next book I re-read the guidelines and gave them settings and situations that are popular with medical readers.

Did you ever give up writing?
I had been writing for three and a half years when I had my second child. With a part-time job, a preschooler and a baby, plus moving towns, it all became too much and I stopped writing. Three years later I saw an article about a romance writing workshop in Queenscliff with a stellar line up of speakers including Stephanie Laurens and Marion Lennox. I thought 'I'll go to that! It can be a day out just for me.' That day became a turning point. I went back to writing.

What made the difference to overcoming that final hurdle and getting accepted?
Well, who can really tell but I think it was ...Writing the hero. I suddenly realised I was being rejected on the hero...they liked everything else. I just didn't 'get' him. I was writing him all wrong. A light bulb went off one day and I wrote a different type of hero.

Is there anything you wish you'd done (or not done) earlier in your writing career?
Stepped out from under my mentor earlier and trusted my own voice. When I started I had great faith I would be published. That faith withered at times and when a published author took me under her wing I did everything she suggested, everything. Not wise. I think my voice faded.

But it takes time and confidence to trust yourself again. When I was ready to do that I started thinking 'hmm, she might think it would be better like this but I can make it work another way.' But you still have doubts so my third book sale which was written without any input from my mentor meant a great deal...it meant I could actually do this on my own. Of course, I always get it read by a fellow romance writer...she's my grammar queen!

Annie West has been writing contemporary romances for 10 years. After publication with a small Australian press years ago, her novel 'A Mistress for the Taking', was recently accepted for Harlequin Mills & Boon Sexy and will be on Australian shelves in December 2006.

What kept you going for so long?
I love writing. I love reading. I love the friends I've made through writing—they kept be going. Encouraging feedback was an enormous help—someone (other than me) liked what I was writing. I found a critique partner who was positive (yet like a dog with a bone when she found something that didn't work). And more and more I could hear the words of a multi-published RWA author in my ears, saying the difference between the published and the unpublished is that the former didn't give up.

Did you ever give up writing?
I came close a few years ago. A friendly editor told me she that she liked my work, wanted to see it in print, but my voice didn't fit her line. That seemed to leave me nowhere to go as that was the line where I thought I belonged.

What made the difference to overcoming that final hurdle and getting accepted?
Luck and timing. And targeting the right line was a good start! I'd shied away from writing for HM&B Sexy as I thought it would be too hard, I'd never make it there. But amongst the huge range of romances I read, guess what had been a constant for years? HMB Sexy. It felt like coming home when I finally tried my hand at it (but that doesn't mean it was easy!).

I think the other main difference was listening to Stephanie Bond at the 2004 RWA Conference in Sydney. She posed lots of challenging questions about whether we took our writing seriously. Did I treat it as a business? I thought I did but I didn't even have a plan or targets. I let myself get lazy when I didn't feel like writing. I spent too much time talking about books rather than writing them. That next year I really focused on doing what I could to produce a fantastic book (and some follow up ones ... just in case).

Is there anything you wish you'd done (or not done) earlier in your writing career?
Yes—focused more on my strengths and where they fitted, and paid more attention to the successful authors who talked about what happens after acceptance. Oh, I listened, but I wasn't focusing. Now I'm on a steep learning curve.

Maxine Sullivan has still got a rejection from Mills & Boon dated 1986, which means it's been twenty years (at least!) since she started writing. She's had many rejections since then on her category novels, which are what she loves to write. Her book "The Millionaire's Seductive Revenge" has been accepted by Silhouette Desire and is due for release in February 2007.

What kept you going for so long?
The thought that I had stories to tell and how much I wanted to share those stories with others.

Did you ever give up writing?
I can remember a three month period where, due to personal reasons, I just couldn't write. I didn't pick up a pen or think about writing in that time. But eventually I started to yearn to tell those stories inside me again.

More recently, 2005 was the year where I seriously thought about giving up. I'd been through a couple of revision requests that looked promising but led nowhere. I was trying my hardest to get published and nothing was working.

Then I made a decision. I either give up writing totally, or I write for the love of it and just accept that I may never get published. I chose the second option, and somehow everything fell into place.

What made the difference to overcoming that final hurdle and getting accepted?
I honestly don't know. The only difference was that I'd stopped putting pressure on myself to get published, so perhaps that came through in my writing.

Is there anything you wish you'd done (or not done) earlier in your writing career?
Perhaps I wouldn't have spent so much time rewriting the same stories and submitting them to any line I thought would fit. On the other hand, I was learning my craft and that takes time. For me, it happened to take twenty years.

Tessa Radley has been writing for six years. Initially she tried writing a lot of different things—mostly for new lines. She also tried her hand at more mainstream suspense as well as short contemporaries targeted at Presents and Blaze. Her book, 'Black Widow Bride' will be an April 2007 release for Silhouette Desire.

What kept you going for so long?
Determination. Sheer bloody mindedness. When I set out to do something I rarely let it go until I get there.

Did you ever give up writing?
No. Never. But I went through a period of about 18 months after I finalled in the Golden Heart where I wrote very little. I was working full time and I have a very active family and I struggled to find time to write. The frustration that came from not writing forced the decision to stop working full time and cut back to more flexible contract work. That gave me time to write 'The Black Widow Bride', the book I went on to sell.

What made the difference to overcoming that final hurdle and getting accepted?
Gosh, this is where listening and reading comes into play.
  1. I attended the Kara School of Writing course run by Daphne Clair and Robyn Donald not once but several times. Each time was absolutely invaluable. It also forced me to keep writing new books for Daphne and Robyn to assess!
  2. The advice to write a little every day is the best advice I was ever given.
  3. I read a lot of debut books. I identified that the books all had one thing in common—they were seamless. I had to learn to write a book that was seamless, where the scenes flowed from one to the next with no jarring, no confusion, where the story worked as an integrated whole.
  4. Another thing that made an immense difference was a rejection I received from Bryony Green, Senior Editor, Mills & Boon. I had the chance to talk to her about the rejection. She had told me that the manuscript had too many secondary characters and family elements that diluted my Presents voice and in turn caused the manuscript to be neither Tender nor Presents. I asked whether she thought the manuscript would fit Special Edition if I lengthened it a little. Her advice was to forget about other lines, to focus on Presents and not to allow what I was getting right to become diluted. I thought about what she'd said and decided she was right. Chopping and changing between lines and genres had not gotten me published. I wrote two manuscripts and didn't even allow myself to think about where I would pitch them if Presents rejected them. The first one, 'The Bodyguard's Bride' finalled in the 2004 Emma Darcy Award and RWAm Golden Heart Contest. The second, 'The Black Widow Bride', made the second round of this year's Emerald Competition and then had to be withdrawn because it sold to Silhouette Desire.

Is there anything you wish you'd done (or not done) earlier in your writing career?
I wish I'd focused earlier on writing short contemporaries only. But I don't regret not doing so. Trying different lines and genres all helped me to hone my voice.



Annie West is a long time RWAustralia member with books available both sides of the Atlantic. Her current release, The Sheikh's Ransomed Bride, is now available in the UK and will be in stores in Australia in May and in the United States in July 2007.
This article first appeared in Heartstalk, the newsletter of RWAustralia.


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