Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Helen's Call: Part Two

I did it. I finally sold a manuscript. Two manuscripts, in fact.

Two weeks ago I posted a little about my own personal journey toward publication. I promised to talk today about what changed. Why now? After ten years, four manuscripts, several halfsies and too many contest wins to count, why did I finally get published?

I’d like to think that editors finally smartened up, but it may very well be that I hit the right editor’s desk on the right day during the right cycle of the moon. The truth, I think, is much simpler than that. I switched gears. I think that’s why I finally sold.

My first books are romantic adventures, stories like NATIONAL TREASURE, only with more romance. I’d been hitting up the contemporary single title market because my stories, to me anyway, seemed to have relatively big, over the top ideas with several subplots and lots of point of view characters. I got very close a couple of times with single title editors, but something always nixed the deal.

Finally, when I’d accumulated enough achievements on my writing resume, an agent shared a bit of her wisdom with me over the phone. She liked my books well enough to read them all the way through, even though she knew she couldn’t sell them, but she believed romantic adventures were a market in my own mind. She said she couldn’t sell my books as single titles, but might be able to market them as Superromances if I got rid of my villain plotline. I didn’t believe her. I went with a different agent who more closely shared my vision, but something must have subconsciously stuck.

A year and a half later, as my third book, the Bahamian treasure hunt, was piling up rejections, I was quickly approaching the end of the rope I’d been dangling on for so many years. I decided to enter Georgia Romance Writer’s Maggie contest one more time, hoping a positive outcome might help sell that manuscript.

The Maggie allows an author to enter several books at once into the contest, but only one in any single category. All my books are contemporary single titles, so I had to compromise. I had a brand new book I was about 100 pages into that WASN’T an action adventure and I desperately wanted feedback on its single title potential, so I entered my smallest book, the Bahamian treasure hunt, as a LONG CONTEMPORARY.


My new book finalled in the single title category AND my treasure hunt won the Maggie. The editor judge loved it and wanted to see the entire manuscript. She was the second editor to offer revisions. When my revisions were rejected by her higher ups, I think she helped smooth the way for me at Superromance, where it eventually sold (villain plotline wasn’t history, but the villain POV scenes bit the proverbial dust).

A friend pointed out that there was a definite positive side to editors liking my writing but rejecting my books. These editors would remember me, and editors change houses all the time. That’s one of the reasons why perseverance is what it’s all about. In writing. In life. You never know how something bad from the past might swing around to help you in the future.

My dream came true. How I feel about it changes every day, every hour. I’m kind of a basket case, really. Right after I sold, I went from crying happy tears one minute to sad ones the next. From being contentedly thrilled to extremely frustrated in seconds, wishing things would move faster. Heck, wishing things would move! (See, there’s Impatience again rearing her beautiful head.) Then I sold my second book, my fourth manuscript, and the dream seems to be turning into an actual career.

Other than motherhood, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I applaud every writer who's ever sat down at his/her computer and continued writing after a tough rejection letter, a difficult critique, or a disappointing contest score. For that matter, I applaud every person who has ever stepped up to ANY plate, took a few swings, struck out and came back to swing again.

Have you ever chased a dream? Is it the best thing you've ever done, your biggest regret, or something in between? Has it changed you for better or worse?


Betina Krahn said...

Helen, I have not only chased a dream, I often feel I am being chased by one. A couple of times I've tried to turn off the writing urge and walk away, but I haven't been able to do it.

Every time I take hold of the dream again-- writing, publishing, getting my stories out there-- it's even more potent than before.

I have a lot to say. . . some of which may not be to a mass market audience. What do I do about those? What do you do when your dream takes a hard right on you and keeps driving you forward?

Keep writing.

The dream has changed me. It's made it harder to accept the days when I'd like to just have a comfy desk job somewhere or just phone-it-in.

We're so proud of you, Helen. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for writing and for the joy of creating. You're an inspiration to us all.

And I love those pictures. They're exactly how it feels to want something to bloom inside you and then to have it happen.

Great post. Thanks for giving us the second part of your story.

:) Betina

Helen Brenna said...

Being chased by a dream - oooh, Betina, that's a good way to put it. And thanks for the kind words.

When I was sooo close to quitting writing, just before I sold, the only regret I had was feeling as if I'd be letting my writing friends down, both published and unpublished.

It's such a tough business. We need all the inspiration we can get.

I'm going to get that first picture of the little boy flexing his muscles turned into a poster and put it in my office!!

Michele said...

I love to hear sale stories, and thanks for sharing yours Helen. You'll go far because you've got determination and fortitude. (If not some good old fashioned stubbornness to stick out the long haul.) :-)

I fulfilled a dream this year by visiting Paris. Afterword, I sort of sat around...dreamless. I'd done the dream. Now what?

Time for new dreams! I'm still thinking what the next dream should be, but that's the fun part, finding something worth chasing.


scrapperjen said...

Congrats to you!
I am currently starting a story that I am feeling all the way through. My DH thinks I'm crazy but I'm going to go for it anyway. So, I guess I can't answer your questions yet.

Helen Brenna said...

Michele, interesting thing about dreams - we have to keep renewing them. But how do we enjoy the present while still dreaming of the future?

Jen, you'll just have to come back and let us know how that story's going!!

Jaye Wells said...

Having a career as a novelist is my big dream. But even though I am not there yet, I still question it. Rejections, impatience and general frustration sometimes make me wonder why I'm doing this to myself. But then I remember that there's nothing else I'd rather do. It's hard to balance the optimism with the practical side of things. Hearing stories about people like you, Helen, who kept it up and finally reached the The Show helps.

Debra Dixon said...

Jen-- Good for you! I think dreams are what keep us going.

Helen-- Your story is so helpful to folks who are struggling with a style or plots that are just slightly different from what's out there, that skew just slightly out of their intended market. I know one other author (now in hardcover suspense) who finally sold when she entered the GH as a long contemporary and built her career from there.

When I think of those stories I know where the author almost walked away or had reached the absolute end of their rope in their ability to pursue their dream, I always remember Debbie Maccomber. What if that first nibble on her work hadn't happened when it did?

lois greiman said...

I'm a huge believer in dreams, in trying, in doing what you have to do. I think there are a lot of people out there who don't have that, who just live from day to day and don't have that passion to fulfill and that seems pretty empty to me. (As you probably know--cuz I'm a huge whiner--it took me five years and over a hundred rejections to sell my first book.) That's a lot of wanting to crawl under the bed and never come out. But it's been really worth it. All the years I've gotten to stay home with my kids and tell lies on paper. All the books I have on the shelf now. Ahhhh. Good stuff. So I'm with you, Helen, get out there and take a swing at life. Sometimes it strikes back, but eventually it gets tired and lets you get a hit.

Helen Brenna said...

There are so many stories of writers who had been rejected and rejected and ... you get the idea. And you're right, Deb, today they're big.

John Grisham and Janet Evanovich are 2, off the top of my head.

Jaye, I firmly believe that if you continually strive to improve your craft and pay a little bit of attention to the market, keep writing and you'll get published.

Helen Brenna said...

Yep, Lois, I remember your struggle too. I think your theory back then was hound them to death and eventually they'll publish you just to get you off their backs, right?


Loralee said...

I just have to add my thoughts to this topic. Have I chased a dream? Absolutely, and it was the marathon from hell! But I got to the finish line (and a sale!) just after my 69th birthday and a week before my 50th wedding anniversary! Do I regret it? Not a bit. Has it changed me? Yes, for the better. I have a self-confidence that I didn't have before. I proved I could achieve the goal I set out to meet. And when my teen-age granddaughters told me they were so proud of their "cool" grandma --that was icing on the cake.
To anyone still chasing their dreams -- I'm living proof that perserverance and a passion for what you write will get you there!

Helen Brenna said...

Yay, Loralee!! Congrats on finally making your own dream come true!

My daughter sometimes looks at me and says, "I can't believe you got a book published."

It'll be fun to head to a store with my family and actually see the book on the shelves!

Debra Dixon said...


Absolutely yours is one of those stories that helps people believe.

I hope you check back in because I want to know how old were you when you started writing seriously with publication in mind?

Betina Krahn said...

Loralee! How great to have you here. You're an inspiration to us all.

I'm sure your story has made a huge impact on those granddaughters, as it has on everyone in your life. More than just being "cool" --which you definitely are, but that goes without saying-- you're also a terrific example of having a dream, setting a goal, and proving to the world that dreams can and do come true! What a marvelous example that is for your girls and for everyone who knows you.

What makes the lesson so vivid for the rest of us the fact that you're such a wonderful and loving person as well as a talented writer. That's an awesome combination.

:) Betina

Debra Dixon said...


You know that Loralee is one of my "Southern sisters?" We grow good people in the South!

anne frasier said...

i often wonder what i'd be doing if i'd never sold that first book. sometimes i think i'd be better off mentally, but most of the time i think it was a wonderful thing even though it's also involved pain, hardship, and dashed hopes. i think my middle name will always be toiling-in-obscurity. sometimes i'm okay with that. just write the check. ;)

Helen Brenna said...

I hear you, Anne, loud and clear!

Helen Brenna said...

And yes, Deb, you do grow good people in the South! Some of my favorites!

Loralee said...

First, a big congratulation! to Helen on that second sale. They are often the most difficult.

Deb, to answer your question, I joined RWA in 1984 - played at writing while letting everyone and everything interrupt me. Never finished anything. In 1996, I had a heart attack that really got my attention. After a long rehab, I realized that I'd better fish or cut bait if I wanted to be published. I soon had many unfinished manuscripts cluttering my office and many doubts that I would ever find the story I wanted to write bad enough to finish. Again I let other stuff distract me. Talking the talk is so much easier than walking the walk, right?

I began spending time at the equine therapy facility near me. This wonderful program touched my heart, inspired me, and gave me the story I wanted to write. I finally found my true voice and writing that story was a joy. Finishing it was even better!

In 2003 I entered my contemporary romance in the NEORWA Romancing the Novel contest, took first place and also a request for the full from the editor judge. That submission turned into a sale in 2004 and ACCIDENTAL HERO was released in Dec. 2005. So I guess I've been writing for over twenty years, but only seriously pursuing publication since I was 65.
Sorry for the long answer. ;o)

Betina, your kind words made my heart smile and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

To all you gals riding around with the top down, thanks for sharing your experience and insight. I'll never be too old to learn something new.

Helen Brenna said...

That was a long haul, Loralee. Makes the dream all the more special for having attained it!

Kelly Parra said...

Helen, congrats on your new sales! And I really enjoyed reading your journey. Often people don't understand how hard it is to sell or even just write. The dream I've chased has been to become a writer and I'm there, but I've had lots of ups and downs, that's for sure. =D

Helen Brenna said...

Kelly - you sold a book to MTV, right? I'm so curious about that. I'll have to log on your blog and read up!