> How did you all go from zero to published? Did you futz about with it for years before buckling down to write a whole novel? Or did you decide one day, "I’m going to write a novel", and voila! finished it 3-6-9 months later?
I wrote my first full novel in fifth grade on the IBM Selectric typewriter my father brought home from work (he worked at IBM and they had special deals). I always intended to be a writer, but as I got older, I realized there were complications—like making a living. I’m not much on the starving artist in a garret business. I took accounting in college because I’d always worked in the financial sector and money was of interest to me. <G> I aced my advanced comp and literature courses in college, my teachers adored me, but it wasn’t to be. I’d make a really, really bad teacher, and that’s about all you can do with a literature degree. So I wrote and researched as a hobby until we moved to a rural area where female accountants weren’t highly valued (which seriously dates me, I fear!). With nothing better to do but watch the kids and corn grow, I read my first historical romance, and the rest—as they say—is history. It probably took me longer to get serious about writing a book than it did to get it published, but this was in the early eighties when anything sexy and historical sold. (And yes, I started with the cheapest K-Mart spiral notebooks and Bic pens that I could find at the time–being an unpaid housewife wasn’t something to which I was accustomed!)
>>What did you use to learn the craft – college classes? Books? Critique partner/group? Trial and error? … How many completed manuscripts did you have before you sold? Is getting published the first time different today than when you first published?
I read every book I could find in the market I wanted to enter. I knew nothing about critiques or RWA. My only training was the immense amount of literature I’d consumed over the years, and the articles in Writers Market and Writers Digest. My first manuscript I wrote as a joke—I’d already figured out that historical romance required a tall, dark, handsome hero set in a historical drama, so I wrote a black Civil Rights activist in the 1960s. <G> But then I got cocky and decided my stuff was as good as anything I’d seen published, and I began sending it around. An agent wanted to charge me to read it, and I said thanks, but no thanks (I read those Writers Digest articles after all!). She got real snippy and said I might try Zebra. I found Zebra books at the store, realized they wanted sensuality, and sat down and wrote a sensuous story set in the area in which I was living (because I’d been told to write what I know). So I sold the second book I wrote. I don’t think the first will ever see the light of day <G>, but I learned a lot while writing it. I’m a reader. The errors screamed at me when I re-read the pages after setting them aside for a while. Trial and error is me.
Getting published today is totally different. The romance market has been narrowed in many ways, and broadened in others. But today, you have to know the basics, or you won’t get past the first reader. And by "basics," I don’t mean just grammar and punctuation, although those are essential. You have to know that writing a book set in Africa in 1900 is going to be a tough sell and be prepared to add in all the marketing high ticket items to sway an editor into reading it. You have to know word counts and which editors like what and that there are only half as many big publishers as twenty years ago, and be prepared to go to small pubs if your book leans too far in the wrong direction to sell to the big pubs. Or else your name needs to be Nora Roberts. <G>
I wish I could hand our readers the magic words that would instantly turn them into published writers, but I might as well wish for a wand and a million dollars. Getting published requires a lot of hard work, a lot of luck, talent, and persistence. Unless you’re prepared to write just because you love it, it’s best not to even embark on a writing career. It’s a wonderful release for fantasies and dreams and things that build up inside of us, but the reality is that writing is a business, with all the same ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs.
How many of our readers are interesting in becoming a writer? Is it because you’re readers that you want to write? Or because there are stories inside of you that need telling?