Zero to Published

Susan Sarah here….

Last week,Susannac asked the Wenches:
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? What did you use to learn the craft – college classes? Books?
Critique partner/group? Trial and error? Which is harder for you – character
or plot? How many completed manuscripts did you have before you sold? Is
getting published the first time different today than when you first
published?

Whew, lots to think about there, great questions! I’ll tackle the first part….

How did I get from zero to published?
Slowly at first, then a meandering pace, then very quickly. The short version is: I played around with fiction for years, I began writing a book, I entered a writing contest; I won, got an agent, finished the book and got published. From sending in final manuscript to editor’s offer took five weeks. So it was fast, or seemingly so. The whole process was more complex.

The looooong version: Secretly, since childhood, I had always wanted to write fiction – I wrote a few “books” as a kid, filling spiral notebooks full until the pages were tattered and ink-smeared. I illustrated them, too, and kept them hidden–never told my family, never showed anyone, but they knew I was always noodling around with those spiral notebooks.
Then the illustrating got a stronger hold on me than the writing, and I studied art in college. I was always reading fiction and poetry, and for a while wrote poetry and short stories, and got lots of positive feedback on these in creative writing seminars. But I wasn’t “serious” about it – I loved writing, but I was sort of a Hippie artiste at that point in my life. Then I went from art school to art history graduate studies, and lectured in art history. At the same time I was having kids. Studying, teaching, changing diapers, picking up toys, rocking fussy little guys to sleep, grading exams…not much time for reading, or my own play time, which was writing poetry and fiction.

During those years, I had several high-risk pregnancies (I have three kids, so you see the math wasn’t in my favor), and it seemed like every couple of years I was on mandatory bed rest for weeks and sometimes months at a time, with assorted hospital stays. Suddenly I couldn’t teach, couldn’t go to classes or the library or finish my dissertation, couldn’t lift my toddlers or get on the floor and play with them. So I had lots of help–and lots of reading time. That’s when I started to read romance, during the long days when I was on the sofa or in bed. Art history books were big and heavy, and paperbacks were just the right size. I read stacks of books, found a genre I loved, and I started to dream about writing novels again.

When I got my first computer, a gift from my dad so that I could finish the nearly-done dissertation that had been put on hold along with so much during the complicated baby years…I worked on the dissertation, and also started playing around with fiction. Soon I had a complete idea, a beginning-middle-end, then I had chapters, then more chapters….

I had discovered writer’s magazines and local writer’s groups. It was a revelation to me that writers had support networks. I forced myself to go to the group meetings (I was very shy about putting myself out there, though I was teaching classes of 150 students at the time–-go figure!). So I listened like a mouse in the corner, in awe of these confident, talented, friendly women (many of whom have since become close friends). Listening to them, though not saying much myself, I gained confidence in what I was doing.

One day I saw a contest advertised in Romantic Times asking for three chapters and a synopsis, with agents looking at the submissions. Well, I had that much written–I constantly rewrote, and taught myself that way — and so I made myself enter, scary as that was. My book was set in medieval England, and was sort of the flip-side of my art history dissertation: the heroine was a manuscript illuminator. The hero was a sort of Robin Hood character, and the book was more action-adventure romance than anything else. I had a blast writing it, loving the freedom of playing with medieval history without footnotes.

Somehow I won first place. The prize, a literary agent’s opinion, was duly activated – she loved what she saw and wanted more. Gulp! I didn’t have any more. She told me, this is good stuff — finish it, and send it to me when it’s done. Then she gave me a great piece of advice: don’t finish it fast for me, she said. Take your time and write the best book you can.

A few months later, I sent her the entire manuscript of The Black Thorne’s Rose. Five weeks after that, she called to tell me of a two-book contract offer – and the next day, I spoke with my very first editor, Audrey LaFehr at Penguin. That conversation was a thrill I will never, ever forget (especially since I had a five-year-old writing, coincidentally, his very first kindergarten book report at the kitchen table, going Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! the whole time). I wrote twelve books for her…and then on to other editors, other publishers, and other books since. There are few feelings as fantastic like the high-flyin’ thrill of that very first conversation, the one that starts you off in a new direction in life, the one that will change your life, and you, in so many ways.

Blackthornesrose So that’s how it began for me. Gradually, as the idea and the skill formed, and slowly while I cleared other life hurdles until I was ready for a whole new direction. From a certain point, it all went very fast. In some ways, it was an advantage to skip over the rejection-letter part, which is also character building and prepartory in its way. Yet in some ways that fast leap was not to my advantage, as I was very green–didn’t know beans about publishing, didn’t know the questions to ask, or how to proceed in most areas. My editor was very patient, and taught me a great deal in those days. I will always be indebted to her for that.

What about you all, are you in the various throes and stages of this? If you are published already, was it a quick leap or a slow and steady climb?

And I would love to hear the other Wenches tell how they got started!

~Susan Sarah

18 thoughts on “Zero to Published”

  1. OH yeah this history and art geek definitely got the writing bug, Kalen!
    Susan Miranda, maybe you’ll reveal all in your next blog…hint, hint.
    Thanks, Susie F. (and you take care! Put your feet up!! Unless you are ready to get it over with, in which case, hop up and down.:)
    ~Susan/sarah

    Reply
  2. OH yeah this history and art geek definitely got the writing bug, Kalen!
    Susan Miranda, maybe you’ll reveal all in your next blog…hint, hint.
    Thanks, Susie F. (and you take care! Put your feet up!! Unless you are ready to get it over with, in which case, hop up and down.:)
    ~Susan/sarah

    Reply
  3. OH yeah this history and art geek definitely got the writing bug, Kalen!
    Susan Miranda, maybe you’ll reveal all in your next blog…hint, hint.
    Thanks, Susie F. (and you take care! Put your feet up!! Unless you are ready to get it over with, in which case, hop up and down.:)
    ~Susan/sarah

    Reply
  4. Thank you, Susan/Sarah! That was a wonderful story. I’m intrigued that you were working on a dissertation – did you ever finish? It seems a lot of romance writers have advanced degrees, which is so against the image projected in the popular media about romance writers (and readers). Obviously academics and genre writers have a common tendencies to hang out in libraries, love research, live in their heads and work for years on projects without much feedback, so it’s not surprising there’s an overlap.
    As to your question about where in the throes each of us is, I’m at the “playing with fiction for years and just getting serious” place – not even finished a novel yet, but working hard on one. It’s competing for time with my dissertation. Heh. My area is criminal justice, and I confess part of the reason for choosing that field is because of my love for crime fiction.
    And I would also love to hear from both the Wenches and the Wenchlings about their journeys.

    Reply
  5. Thank you, Susan/Sarah! That was a wonderful story. I’m intrigued that you were working on a dissertation – did you ever finish? It seems a lot of romance writers have advanced degrees, which is so against the image projected in the popular media about romance writers (and readers). Obviously academics and genre writers have a common tendencies to hang out in libraries, love research, live in their heads and work for years on projects without much feedback, so it’s not surprising there’s an overlap.
    As to your question about where in the throes each of us is, I’m at the “playing with fiction for years and just getting serious” place – not even finished a novel yet, but working hard on one. It’s competing for time with my dissertation. Heh. My area is criminal justice, and I confess part of the reason for choosing that field is because of my love for crime fiction.
    And I would also love to hear from both the Wenches and the Wenchlings about their journeys.

    Reply
  6. Thank you, Susan/Sarah! That was a wonderful story. I’m intrigued that you were working on a dissertation – did you ever finish? It seems a lot of romance writers have advanced degrees, which is so against the image projected in the popular media about romance writers (and readers). Obviously academics and genre writers have a common tendencies to hang out in libraries, love research, live in their heads and work for years on projects without much feedback, so it’s not surprising there’s an overlap.
    As to your question about where in the throes each of us is, I’m at the “playing with fiction for years and just getting serious” place – not even finished a novel yet, but working hard on one. It’s competing for time with my dissertation. Heh. My area is criminal justice, and I confess part of the reason for choosing that field is because of my love for crime fiction.
    And I would also love to hear from both the Wenches and the Wenchlings about their journeys.

    Reply
  7. Susan/Sarah said… “I was very shy about putting myself out there, though I was teaching classes of 150 students at the time–-go figure!”
    I’m right there, Susan! I can climb on a stage, grab a mic and pontificate before hundreds. And have. Even now, I spend at least one day a week in front of some group somewhere. But sharing what I write… that’s like running through a mall naked. Although I’ve done it. No, not the naked part, the sharing part.
    As for my writing/rejection/publishing journey… there are a few here who already know the story but the long and short of it is… the writing is hard, I get at least one rejection letter a day (all of them signed by me) and publishing is a wish my heart made on night while I was fast asleep. About a month ago I fired myself from my 50,000+ word EHF MIP then accidentally stumbled into a time-travel romance plot line. I’m forcing myself to do this one by the book… develop the concept, then the characters, then do the research, set the plot points, then make the outline, then write the synopsis (I’m somewhere about here but still researching.) and then and only then start the ms. Bloody hard for a dyed-in-the-wool pantser like me. But, maybe I’ll learn something and get my old MIP back. *g*
    –the littlest wenchling, wondering where Susan/Sarah’s heroine shopped for her medieval lingerie

    Reply
  8. Susan/Sarah said… “I was very shy about putting myself out there, though I was teaching classes of 150 students at the time–-go figure!”
    I’m right there, Susan! I can climb on a stage, grab a mic and pontificate before hundreds. And have. Even now, I spend at least one day a week in front of some group somewhere. But sharing what I write… that’s like running through a mall naked. Although I’ve done it. No, not the naked part, the sharing part.
    As for my writing/rejection/publishing journey… there are a few here who already know the story but the long and short of it is… the writing is hard, I get at least one rejection letter a day (all of them signed by me) and publishing is a wish my heart made on night while I was fast asleep. About a month ago I fired myself from my 50,000+ word EHF MIP then accidentally stumbled into a time-travel romance plot line. I’m forcing myself to do this one by the book… develop the concept, then the characters, then do the research, set the plot points, then make the outline, then write the synopsis (I’m somewhere about here but still researching.) and then and only then start the ms. Bloody hard for a dyed-in-the-wool pantser like me. But, maybe I’ll learn something and get my old MIP back. *g*
    –the littlest wenchling, wondering where Susan/Sarah’s heroine shopped for her medieval lingerie

    Reply
  9. Susan/Sarah said… “I was very shy about putting myself out there, though I was teaching classes of 150 students at the time–-go figure!”
    I’m right there, Susan! I can climb on a stage, grab a mic and pontificate before hundreds. And have. Even now, I spend at least one day a week in front of some group somewhere. But sharing what I write… that’s like running through a mall naked. Although I’ve done it. No, not the naked part, the sharing part.
    As for my writing/rejection/publishing journey… there are a few here who already know the story but the long and short of it is… the writing is hard, I get at least one rejection letter a day (all of them signed by me) and publishing is a wish my heart made on night while I was fast asleep. About a month ago I fired myself from my 50,000+ word EHF MIP then accidentally stumbled into a time-travel romance plot line. I’m forcing myself to do this one by the book… develop the concept, then the characters, then do the research, set the plot points, then make the outline, then write the synopsis (I’m somewhere about here but still researching.) and then and only then start the ms. Bloody hard for a dyed-in-the-wool pantser like me. But, maybe I’ll learn something and get my old MIP back. *g*
    –the littlest wenchling, wondering where Susan/Sarah’s heroine shopped for her medieval lingerie

    Reply

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