Since I was lucky enough to receive The Call from Harlequin Mills and Boon a few weeks ago, I have gone from an amateur writer to a professional one. The only difference between the two states, as far as I can tell, is that now I will get paid for what I do and I can change my occupation on my passport.
However, since my good fortune has been splashed over Twitter I have had a few people contact me directly wanting to know how to go about getting published in the first place. I never really know what to say to them and usually end up giving them pointless platitudes like stick with it because you can never really write anything more than that in 140 characters of less.
But the truth is you have to work at it. I don't meant you have to send your manuscript out to every agent and publisher in the land and hope that someone will say yes. You still might have to do that, but you have to lay some important foundations first.
The first thing that you have to do is treat your writing like a proper job if you are serious about being published. In my case, that meant taking the giant leap of leaving behind a very safe and secure job as a teacher because when I was working full-time I certainly had nothing left in me to be creative. I know that has a financial implication and it is easier said than done but if you can do it, it makes a difference. I began by working part-time as a supply teacher three days a week and writing for four. It was an extreme and radical change that did two very positive things:
It gave me the time to actually learn to write a book. There were several attempts before the one that gave me my lucky break and
I hated supply teaching so much that it became a great incentive to get out of it!
On my days off, I wrote. I learned to treat my writing as a job. I created a calm space to write in and I started to work office hours. Every morning, I would sit at my desk at around 9.30am, take an hour off for lunch and then write until 5pm when my kids got home. In the last eighteen months that has become a routine. I don't write in my pyjamas or with greasy hair and I cannot write in a mess. So all of my daily chores are done and I am presentable before I start up my computer. Being a writer is a profession so be professional about it!
When I finished my first book, I was convinced that it was the greatest thing ever written and sent it off to Harlequin proudly. Unsurprisingly it was rejected. I won't lie, that rejection really dented my confidence until I realised that nothing good ever comes without hard work and failure. After that, I just kept wring stories, figuring my first forays into romance writing were like a training course. I never sent any of these manuscripts off or let anybody read them. I guess I knew deep down there were not really good enough, but I was developing my voice and learning how to construct a good novel.
I know lots of people think that social media is a good way to be discovered, and perhaps it is, but until last month I did not have a Facebook or Twitter account, and this article is my first ever post on a blog. I did not approach any agents or attempt to publicise myself, so if you are not comfortable doing those things either, take heart. You don't have to.
This summer, I finished a story and it just felt right. Suddenly, I was no longer frightened to show anyone my work. I let my daughter and a few close friends read my first draft. They liked it so I decided to take the leap. I haven't mentioned it yet, but I write Regency Romances and I intended to enter my story into the Harlequin So You Think You Can Write Contest. I read the rules, and it said that you could enter a manuscript that was already submitted to Harlequin via the usual channels. So I did both, in a desperate belt and braces attempt to have an editor look at my book. To my surprise, an editor got back to me from Harlequin before they had even started looking at the contest entries and asked to see the full manuscript, so I immediately withdrew the story from SYTYCW. There seemed to be no point wasting another editor's time duplicating the work.
I won't bore you with the stressful details here about what happened once the editor started to work with me, if you want to read about that part of the process then copy on this link:
The revision process was an interesting yet daunting experience but thankfully there was some really good advice on the internet that helped me to rip apart my first draft of the manuscript and make it better. The most invaluable of these was an article by Chuck Wendig.
In total, there were four drafts of my manuscript, including the original, before Harlequin accepted it. I have learned so much from the revisions process that I feel much more confident about writing my next book for Harlequin. My only advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is to listen to the editors advice. They know what they are talking about. Criticism is part of being a writer, so you have to suck it up and deal with it.
So now, I am not a teacher anymore. I work Monday through to Friday sat at my computer recording the stories in my mind onto paper and I love it.
And if people ask me what I do I say I guess I'm an author now...