Sunday, September 14, 2008

Helen's First Sale

I got the call that Harlequin wanted to buy TREASURE while touring a university campus with my, then senior, daughter. The group of parents and prospective students surrounding me probably assumed someone had died when I burst into tears. Then came my big smile and the group’s collective sigh of relief, and all was well again.

I have to be honest. Had another rejection come down the pike, it would’ve been my last. Ever. And I mean it. I’d gotten my accounting resume all polished up and had already started the networking process with past co-workers and some friends in the finance industry. My head was turned around and I was, believe it or not, okay with it.

It wouldn’t have felt like a failure at that point. I’d given writing everything I had to give for as long as I could and I’d finally reached the proverbial wall. Or was it that I could finally see the dang thing that I’d been banging my head against for ten plus years?

At the time TREASURE sold, I’d written four complete manuscripts and had several others in various degrees of completion. I’d been nominated three times for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart for unpublished writers. Won Georgia Romance Writers Maggie and Smokey Mountain Romance Writers Laurie, and finalled too many times to count in other contests.

I was on my second agent. I’d had several editors at big houses tell my agents that while they loved my book(s) they couldn’t buy it/them. Their senior editor or the editorial committees always seemed to nix the deals for various reasons.

I’d rewritten TREASURE for a single title house. It wasn’t enough. I rewrote it again for one of the suspense lines at Harlequin. The initial editor loved my rewrites, but the senior editor for the line shut it down. (Funny, TREASURE won the RITA in the series suspense category!) Finally, I rewrote it a third time for my current editor at Superromance. She’d given me a 13 page revisions letter and no promises.

I decided to try ONE LAST TIME. One last rewrite, one last shove, one last hope thrown out into the universe. Wow.

Isn’t it strange how things happen? A couple can’t have a baby, so they adopt. They find out two months later, lo and behold, they’re pregnant. And … and … hmm, okay, so I can’t think of another example, but you know what I mean.

The road to getting my first book published was rough and rocky, but I’m thinking now that I’ve won a RITA for that very book, it was worth every bump and bruise.

If you don’t write it, send it in, keep writing and keep sending it in, it can’t get sold. If you don’t start that new business, take that art, business, dance class, join that club, etc … no one’s going to do it for you.

Writer or not, is there something in your life, some goal you’re trying to reach, that seems forever just out of your reach? What motivates you to keep at it?


Kylie said...

What a wonderful first sale story, Helen! That RITA is a tribute to your journey to publishing. Congrats!

Keri Ford said...

Helen this is a fantastic story! It's like you stuck at it and got cake, icing, and the ice cream too!

I'm going a little over three years on my writing career and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon. I know I haven't reached my peak on being a good writer yet. There's always more things to learn, better ways to figure out how to do something. I guess when I get to that point when I think I can't learn anything to make myself better then I'll stop writing for publication.

All the rejection is just part of the business. I accepted that long ago. There's some people out there who won't like what I write and that's okay. There's a lot of things out there I don't like. Take a look at the critism, see if you agree with anything and move on from there with what's learned--even if it's nothing more than laughing off someone ripping your manuscript a new one for not following those 'rules'.

Michele Hauf said...

Wow, Helen, talk about determination! So cool that you got the call after you had surrendered to trying to find work in accounting. You'd stopped worrying about selling at that point, I assume, and that's when it happened.

Do you ever wonder if all those editors who rejected you were in the audience when you were picking up your shiny Rita and thinking 'darn! I lost that one!'


Helen Brenna said...

Thanks, Kylie!

Keri, sounds like you've got a great attitude with regard to rejections. They are definitely a part of this business.

That's one very positive thing about how long it took for me to get published. I developed a much thicker skin.

Helen Brenna said...

Michele - I KNOW some of them were in the audience!

Betina Krahn said...

Helen, you're an inspiration! And yes, tenacity is one of the best qualities for a writer to possess.

But you're special in that you kept honing your craft and learning and growing as a writer. That's something to be proud of. And to take a lesson from.

Believe me, I'm paying attention!

Playground Monitor said...

Man oh man, what a terrific story. Thanks for sharing so honestly.

I'm still trying to finish the novel I started mumble years ago. I get excited about it, open the file, read the twelve pages I've already written, pull out the folder with my notes, close the document, re-file the folder and go write a short story I know I can probably sell to the magazines. I was thinking about the book on Saturday at my RWA meeting. Maybe this year.


Helen Brenna said...

Betina, thanks! I'd like to think I keep honing my craft.

Marilyn, I get it. I really do. You'll know when it's the right time.

flchen1 said...

That was a great story, Helen! And I've read Treasure, and it's terrific! SO glad you hung in there and that we could enjoy it now! :)

Debra Dixon said...


Sometimes you have to be ready to walk away from writing for it to understand what it's losing and send a telegram to the universe! Obviously your muse freaked and got on the horn with fate.

The rest is history. So many newer writers don't understand how subjective and capricious this business can be. It can beat some people down.

I loved that you've shared with folks you would have been okay walking away. That you didn't let "becoming a published author" define success in your *life.*

That outcome defined success for the dream but not success for your whole life. Very good lesson for all of us.

That plus the, "Uh...if you don't get in there and mix it up...possibly even fail...your dream it's not going to happen." That's always a good lesson too.

Christie Ridgway said...

Fab story, Helen. Go, you! Love the way The Call came.

I think I need to come up with some concrete goals. All I could think about was weight loss and I don't think that's what you meant.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Helen, I know there are tons of readers out there who celebrate your persistence. I'm one of them.

You're absolutely right about setting goals. Sometimes you have to take the big goals apart and set incremental goals. I've always been a gallumphing walker--long legs, big feet, long strides. I'm trying to learn more patience these days.

lois greiman said...

I always have goals, daily, weekly, lifelong. I've been working harder lately at reaching some of them because writing has taught me that success is mostly based on persistence.

Which you have in spades. :)

Helen Brenna said...

Thanks, flchen1. SO glad you actually liked the book!

Deb, LOL - my muse freaked and got on the horn with fate - I'm going to remember that one!

And, yep, success can be in the journey itself, even if you don't reach the hoped for destination.

Helen Brenna said...

Christie, weight loss is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. Talk about an elusive goal! Yikes. That's an easy one to feel disheartened about!

Kathy, we could do a whole nother blog on goal setting. Tami Hoag mentioned something in a workshop many, many years ago that has stuck with me and helped carry me through.

Set goals that are within your power to reach.

In other words, don't set the goal as "getting this book published." You can't make that happen yourself.

But you can "finish the book."

Helen Brenna said...

Lois, yeah, I think persistence is a pretty key element. You can be talented and creative, but if you don't have discipline/persistence, it ain't gonna happen.

Liza said...

Great first sale story Helen! My big goal right now is getting to a healthy weight and body size. I'm planning to run a 5K in the spring and run a 10K in the summer with one of my friends. We are all watching The Biggest Loser every week to stay on track.

Estella said...

So glad you decided to try ONE MORE time.
Congrats on your RITA!

Helen Brenna said...

Yay, Liza, you go!! I've heard that show is incredibly inspiring. Good luck!

Thanks, Estella!

Cindy Gerard said...

Yeah Helen! sorry to be chiming in late but I babysat for my grandbabies today and I'm just getting home.
What a wonderful testimony to perseverance. That's what MUCH of this business is about.

Helen Brenna said...

Thanks, Cindy. Glad you had a good day with your grandkids. Sounds fun!