Advice to Myself as a Newbie Author

December 22, 2008 by in category Blogs tagged as , with 0 and 0
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by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Sandra Kay

Sandra Kay’s first book, Heart of Stone, was released in digital format on October 3rd by The Wild Rose Press. The print release will be on January 3, 2009. Heart of Stone won First Place in the Fort Bend (Texas) Writer’s Guild contest. She has been writing contemporary romance for about nine years and has belonged to the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America since 2000. She served on the Board of Directors for three years, two as Ways and Means Director and one as Secretary.

Sandra, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

If I could go back in time to before I was first published. . . .

An interesting question—one that I had to think extensively about. As a first-time published author, I read with interest the insightful answers given by the multipublished authors of OCC. And, that’s where I found my #1 answer:

1. I would not be so reticent about networking with published authors. What a font of information we have readily available in OCC. From Ask an Author, to critiques, to workshops, and simply answering questions, these ladies volunteer their time and expertise to help others obtain the dream.

I would also urge new writers to:

2. Never stop learning. I have to say that I did follow this rule. I took Creative Writing classes. I scribbled copious notes while listening to our meeting speakers. I attended workshops. And I continue to take online classes, most recently one on HTML to make promotion and managing my Website easier.

3. Find a good critique group or partner. Make sure that you don’t settle into a group that isn’t really helping you, just because you’ve become comfortable with it. That can be very detrimental to your writing career. Find a way to politely bow out of that type of situation and move on to a group or partner that will give you constructive critiques. If you can connect with a group that has at least one published author in it, you will benefit from that person’s knowledge of the industry.

4. Become active in your local chapter of RWA. I began by selling used books at OCC and went on to serve for three years on the Board of Directors. I learned so much from the group of ladies I served with. And serving makes it easier to meet knew members.

5. Keep on writing. When you break through and sell that first book, you want to have others in reserve. Heart of Stone is part of a four-book series, and I had written three of them before I sold the first one. You don’t want to find yourself desperately playing catch-up to get that second book to your editor.

6. Read in your genre! I think someone else mentioned this, but I just want to reiterate how important it is to stay abreast of the market in your select genre. You need to be familiar with the publishing houses and know what they are selling. Know the correct house to send your manuscript to. Having said that…

7. Don’t write to trends. I made this mistake. By the time I finished my book, the trend had passed.

8. Learn promotion. You may not think you need to know about promotion yet, but when your book is released you’ll wish you had some knowledge on the subject, especially if you’re an epub. There are many books you can purchase on promotion.

9. Don’t let rejection letters stop you. Rejection letters are just part of the business. You have to learn to think of them as a learning process. I’ve received some wonderfully informative rejection letters over the years. Of course, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t terribly disappointed. I was, but enjoying a pity party won’t get us far in this business. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to attend that “party.”

10. Enjoy the process. This is a great business; have fun with it.


To learn more about Sandra, please visit her Website at, her blog at, or her MySpace page at Her new book, Heart of Stone, can be ordered online from The Wild Rose Press,, and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Charlene Sands

Charlene Sands writes Silhouette Desires and Harlequin Historicals. To date, she has penned 25 romances, and her books have won the National Readers’ Choice Award and The Cataromance Reviewers Choice Award, and, this year, she won the 2008 Booksellers Best Award.

Her current release, Do Not Disturb Until Christmas (Silhouette Desire), a Romantic Times Top Pick, is a Borders/Waldenbooks and bestseller for November. Her next book, Reserved for the Tycoon (Silhouette Desire), finishes the series in February 2009. Presently she is working on the Texas Cattleman’s Club continuity for Desire.

Charlene, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

When it comes to writing, I have my ALWAYS and NEVER rules to live by.

ALWAYS write. There are so many distractions now with the Internet and family issues, but it’s imperative to make writing one of the priorities in your life. You can’t sell if you don’t write. Enjoy the process and find ways to add extra writing in. There is more time in the day than you think. As I write this blog, I have the kitchen timer set for 20 minutes. I’m early getting ready for an appointment and so here I am at the computer, getting those extra few minutes in before I have to leave. Remember, if you are serious about being published, then you have to write!

NEVER allow yourself more than a day or two to bemoan a rejection. Yes, you’re allowed to feel badly and yes, you’re allowed a few moments of depression. Heck, you’ve earned it. You worked hard on that last manuscript and put your hopes and dreams into it as well. Give yourself a day or two to recover. Then forge on. Pick yourself up and most importantly learn from the comments the editor took the time to write. If you’re given advice and tips, by all means take it to heart. Implement their feedback into your next story and keep at it.

ALWAYS take workshops and attend lectures about craft. After penning 25 published novels, I’m still learning. I learn something new and different each time I listen to a lecture or read a good book. Try to figure out at least one important way to implement what you’ve learned into your writing. Look for ways to constantly improve. Be honest with yourself. If you know your weak points, then by all means, try to fix the problem. Authors are very generous with their knowledge. If you are lucky enough to attend classes, and there are many out there, both online and in person, then absorb as much knowledge as you possibly can from reliable sources.

NEVER allow jealousy and envy to creep into your daily life. Remember, you’re only in competition with yourself. I live by this creed and feel truly happy when others I know make great strides. They’ve earned it and you will too. If I can say one good thing about competition, it’s that it makes me try harder to be successful. It’s okay to have the “If she can do it, so can I” attitude as long as it’s not mean-spirited.

ALWAYS know your own limitations. Here’s where honesty is key. Vampires are hot, hot right now. But I know in my heart I wouldn’t be happy writing those types of stories. Think about what you truly enjoy writing. It will be transparent in your writing style. You know when your story is going well. You know your comfort level, and thus you’ll know your own limitations. They say, write what you know, but I say, write what you love! It may be one and the same, but maybe not. No one knows your limitations better than you.

NEVER stop reading books that inspire you. Find the time and enjoy those precious moments you tuck away for both fun and inspiration. Whether it’s reading books about craft or motivation or simply diving into a new novel, keep reading. It’s something I try to do, but I will admit that I don’t read as many books as I used to. My day is so busy writing, promoting, and answering mail that often my TBR (to be read) pile suffers. So with this one, do as I say, not as I do. ☺

ALWAYS know your target line or publishing house. Know the guidelines and word count. Know the editors of the line. You can’t sell your story to an editor if you’re not sure your story fits into the framework and guidelines they are looking for. The best way to know if your story is viable is to read and read and read some more from that line. Know the authors and what kind of story works. If it’s category, are you writing a sexy Blaze or a home-and-hearth Special Edition? If it’s a romantic comedy or a thriller, are you sending to houses you know for certain publish those types of stories?

NEVER submit anything that isn’t your own personal best. Be professional. Send in a clean and neatly polished manuscript and know that what you’re sending to an editor is something you have struggled to make perfect. They will note your efforts and pay attention to details. Even if you don’t sell that one, they will regard your work with respect and look forward to seeing your next project.

ALWAYS experience life! You can’t write about life if you’re stuck behind a computer every day. You need to get out, observe your surroundings, take trips, and make new friends. Each day is a new chance to learn and improve. You’ll revitalize your writing by your new experiences.

I’m always amazed what I learn from or about people when I do something new. Case in point, I recently took dance lessons at Arthur Murray Studios for my daughter’s wedding. It was a great experience to share with my husband and daughter, so I’ll always have fond memories. And during that time, I was invited to write a book in a continuity series for Silhouette Desire. You can guess my surprise when I learned that the heroine in my story owned a chain of dance studios! I had all the firsthand knowledge I needed to write that story with authenticity, and if I needed any advice, I could simply call upon my dance instructor. Sometimes, life is so pleasantly surprising.


You can visit Charlene and enter her Suite Secrets Contest at Her newest book, Do Not Disturb Until Christmas, is available in stores and online at and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Lynna Banning

Lynna Banning is the author of thirteen historical romance novels and a former RITA nominee. Her newest book, a September release from Harlequin Historical, is Templar Knight, Forbidden Bride.

Lynna, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

1. Read lots in my genre (historical romance). It’s helpful to see what other houses are publishing and how other writers handle problems of point of view, pacing, types of villain, etc. Keep up with changes in the overall market and your particular genre.

2. Read more outside my chosen genre—nonfiction, literary fiction, trade and mass market popular fiction, and especially how-to books. Start with the “easy” ones: James Frey, How To Write a Damn Good Novel; Jack Bickham, Scene and Sequel; Syd Field, The Screen-Writer’s Workbook (good for plotting); and Ann Hood, Creating Character Emotions. Then move on beyond “the basics”: Linda Seger, Making a Good Script Great; Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel and the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

And keep reviewing these helpful books as you write!

3. Try to join the most advanced critique group you can find, preferably with published authors. You will suffer, but you will learn. However, protect yourself from critique groups that feel overtly or subtly “toxic.” Sometimes this is hard to recognize, but if you generally feel worse after the session (and not fired up and encouraged), give some hard thought to Why.

4. Do go to workshops, writing groups, and writing classes. Just keep your good sense about you, and your ego and your sense of “self” on an even keel. If your ego is very tender, protect yourself first and learn writing stuff later. Also consider getting some psychological counseling to help you retain perspective.

5. Brush up on the basics of grammar and punctuation. I highly recommend two reference books: (1) my old high school grammar text, Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition and (2) Jan Venolia’s Write Right. Both are easy to look up stuff in.

6. Learn to distinguish a “good” rejection letter from a “real rejection” letter. If the letter goes into any depth at all, they might consider a rewrite addressing those issues. Any letter that has even one line addressed specifically to you or your manuscript is a “good” rejection letter.

7. Learn not to see a manuscript’s rejection as anything but rejection of the manuscript itself, not of you personally. This sounds so easy, but it’s hard to detach one’s “person” from one’s “work.” But do try. Squashed egos are not good for writers.

8. Try to write consistently, every day if you can manage it. Use even small blocks of time, such a lunch-hours at work, hours spent on airplanes, time in hotel rooms (it helps if you first hand-write, as I do, on yellow lined note pads, or use a laptop). Set a daily goal: Mine is four typewritten, double-spaced pages a day, about 1,000 words. (Caveat: If a child has the mumps or I have a migraine, I take that day off.)


To learn more about Lynna, please visit her Website at Her newest book, Templar Knight, Forbidden Bride, is available in September at major bookstores and can be ordered online from, Barnes & Noble, and Borders.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Dee Ann Palmer

A former nurse, Dee Ann Palmer now writes full time under her own name and as Carolina Valdez and Carol Holman. Her latest publication as Dee Ann Palmer is the mystery story “Marathon Madness” in the anthology Landmarked for Murder (Top). This month, her Carolina Valdez alter ego publishes “Tie ‘Em Up, Hold ‘Em Down” (Amber Quill Press), an erotic e-novella about two firefighters in love.

Dee Ann, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell my prepublished self that I should learn how to research.

My latest project illustrates the importance—and the difficulty—of researching a story well. As I began “Tie ‘Em Up, Hold ‘Em Down,” I wondered whether I was crazy to tackle a story involving slow-pitch baseball, firefighting, and search and rescue. After all, it was a big chunk, and I was the one crafting the story. I didn’t have to do this! Call me dogged—or maybe just plain stubborn—but I stuck with it.

You need to understand those subjects weren’t entirely new to me. That’s what gave me the courage to use them. The men in my family had played baseball while I cheered from the sidelines and brought refreshments. Training to be a MIC (mobile intensive care) Nurse many years ago, I’d spent twenty hours in a fire station in a neighboring town, hanging out and riding with their paramedics. That gave me an atmosphere from which to create my own station and a glimpse into how they lived while on duty.

There are no women in this novella, but I’d recently seen a presentation to eighth-grade girls by a female firefighter, and I even knew the seventy-pound weight of their backpacks was the same whether carried by men or women.

I’ve watched “Dog Whisperer” on TV, seen TV specials on search-and-rescue teams, and, in my Sisters in Crime chapter meetings, heard an expert witness on search hounds who breeds Bloodhounds.

No matter how familiar the subjects I’d chosen were to me, I researched them. The tools I used included the Internet, personal interviews and the local library, with its interlibrary loan system, periodicals, books, and videos. I could have accessed the Internet in the library if I hadn’t had my own computers.

As an example, I decided to use a Bloodhound, but what colors did they come in? How much did they weigh? An email contact with a breeder gave me that information. I decided which color I liked and gave my hound a name. An Internet look at search and rescue teams gave me clues as to other hounds used and revealed that some are air scenters and others are ground scenters. Because Bloodhounds are ground scenters, I chose an air scenter as my second dog.

A look at online photos of the SAR team in my county as they assembled to train sparked the opening scenes of my story.

As for firefighting, I spoke by phone with a battalion chief in my town and stopped firefighters when I saw them ready to leave a call or found them in the supermarket. Did they sleep dormitory style? Who was in charge on a call? Yes, they still come down poles and only have one minute to hit the mat at the bottom once the alarm sounds. A loudspeaker tells them the nature of the call and what to roll. The captain confirms it via print out.

Because I was writing about gays, I didn’t have the courage to ask for a tour of the main firehouse in my town. I did tell one man I was writing a romance filled with macho firefighters. He just laughed.

And, yes, I read three novels about gays, bought the ebook The Joy of Gay Sex, and looked up gay toys and sexual practices on the Internet.

I checked our local firefighter job descriptions online. Googling firefighting equipment and gear led me to ask about the mat and the boots and suits they use on different calls. I saw yellow suits in the back of an engine when I spoke to some men leaving a call up my street. Yes, they leave their suits in the truck or engine.

Well, what do you know—there are trucks and there are engines! Different purposes for various calls.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to use all the information in my story, but it would’ve been stupid not to look in depth for more than I’d personally experienced. I guess the short answer to whether all that research is necessary is YES. It makes your story ring with authenticity.


Dee Ann Palmer’s Website is at and her blog at The anthology Landmarked for Murder can be purchased from Dee Ann or online at

Her Carolina Valdez Website is at and her blog at “Tie ‘Em Up, Hold ‘Em Down” is available at Amber Quill Press and will be available at

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Jacqueline Diamond

Jackie Diamond Hyman, who also writes as Jacqueline Diamond, has sold eighty-one novels, including romance, suspense, mystery, and humor. She’s also a former Associated Press reporter and TV columnist. Her upcoming releases for Harlequin American Romance include Baby in Waiting (August 2008) and Million-Dollar Nanny (January 2009).

Jackie, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

Sometimes I wonder whether I would have progressed faster in my career if I’d known at the beginning what I know now. Probably, and yet I’ve traded a certain amount of raw energy and wild creativity for my expertise. They aren’t entirely gone, though, as I discover from time to time, to my delight.

Plus there’s no way I could have gained the life experience thirty years ago that I have now. And I still manage to make new mistakes—and keep on learning.

But here’s what I’d tell my younger self, if I had the chance.

1. Get as much professional-level feedback as you can. Take classes, attend seminars, and don’t yield to your fears. Every piece of useful feedback is a nugget of gold. Even if it doesn’t seem helpful at first, put it aside and read it again later.

2. When you receive negativity, whether it’s a snide remark in a rejection letter or an unhelpful critique, don’t take it personally. It actually reflects more about the sender’s inability to put things in a positive light than about you. Once you get over your hurt feelings, try to look beneath the surface for the underlying point: Is there a valuable lesson to be mined here? If something about your work irritated the editor/critiquer, how can you keep from doing this in the future?

3. Don’t compare your career to that of another writer. Remember that we always notice the person who appears to succeed faster and more easily, while scarcely registering the large number of fellow writers who struggle as much as, or more than, we do.

4. Don’t give in to discouragement. You are not a failure just because you’ve failed so far. Once you succeed, failure is just a story to tell your readers.

5. Network. Support other writers, and compliment your favorite published authors. No one but a jerk would resent being approached in a polite, appropriate manner to be told that you love his or her books. Positive output generates positive responses. Don’t expect an immediate payback, but people have long memories for those who support them—and those who do them dirt.

6. Study the market. Don’t necessarily chase it, but be aware of what’s selling and what isn’t. Of course, if you’re a genius or if there’s a book you simply have to write, go ahead.

7. Before you start a novel, jot down the central idea and make sure it’s focused and workable.

8. Analyze the books you love, particularly those that were published recently. Diagram a couple of plots chapter by chapter. Retype a few passages that you find particularly effective—openings, in particular. This is tedious and time consuming, but you’ll be amazed how much you learn.

9. Once you sell, read your contracts. Don’t let them scare you. Even if you have an agent, watch for glitches or areas that confuse you. Hunt down model contracts and study them, but don’t expect perfection.

That’s all I can think of now. Good luck!


To learn more about Jackie, please visit her Website at She blogs on the 1st and 15th of each month at Her newest book, Baby in Waiting, will be available at all major bookstores and can be pre-ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Farrah Rochon

A native of south Louisiana, Farrah Rochon’s debut novel, Deliver Me, garnered rave reviews. The second novel in her Holmes Brothers series, Release Me, was released in May 2008 by Dorchester Publishing. The third and final installment in the series, Rescue Me, will be released in June 2009. Farrah also has a Christmas novella, “A Change of Heart,” in the forthcoming holiday anthology The Holiday Inn (October 2008).

Farrah, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

I’ve had quite an education in the business of publishing since the release of my debut novel last spring, and there are a number of things I wish I’d known a year and a half ago. Here’s a list of the top five pieces of advice I would give the previously unpublished Farrah Rochon:

1. Be ready to promote, promote, promote. Not every writer who publishes with a New York house will get the royal treatment, but you’ll be expected to get a respectable sell-through, no matter what. Self-promotion will be a huge key to your eventual success.

2. Don’t be surprised when not everyone is as excited about your good news as you’d hope they would be. Remember that you cannot count on others for your happiness.

3. Keep your ears open for advice from those who have gone before you. You are lucky enough to belong to an organization of writers who share their wisdom freely. Listen when they discuss how to tactfully approach your editor about disagreements with her revisions and to deal with the other issues you will eventually encounter.

4. Take a class in time management. You’ll need it.

5. Remember to take a step back and enjoy this process. After all, you will be living your dream.


To learn more about Farrah, please visit her Website at or her blog at

Her books are available at brick-and-mortar bookstores as well as online from and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Maureen Child

Maureen Child is the author of more than ninety romance novels and novellas and has been nominated for a Rita five times, including in 2008 for Christmas Cravings (Silhouette Nocturne). More Than Fiends (NAL) is a Bookseller’s Best Finalist and a National Reader’s Choice Award finalist.

Silhouette Desire recently released three books in Maureen’s “Kings of California” series about millionaire brothers: Falling for King’s Fortune (May), Marrying for King’s Millions (April), and Bargaining for King’s Baby (March).

Maureen, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

When I was a newbie, I was ready, willing, and eager to hear advice. All advice. Not to say I always took that advice, but I did listen.

I remember watching the published members of OCC heading off to their PAW meeting every month and wanting to be a part of that crowd so badly I could taste it. I thought if I could just be published, everything would fall into place. Then one of our members, Rita Rainville, gave me some advice. She said, “Being published doesn’t mean your problems go away—it just means you have different problems.”

True, but even back then, I remember thinking—I’d rather have those problems, thanks!

So, if I could reach back in time to my newbie self, I’d tell me to listen up and make notes!

1. Ask questions. Don’t pretend you already know all the answers. Don’t make decisions when you don’t have all the information. Don’t assume your agent is going to make the right choice for you. Ask.

2. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Yes, you have to write to the market if you want to be published, but just because you’ve written ten Westerns doesn’t mean you can’t try a Regency or a contemporary. If your current house isn’t interested, look around. Try another publishing house. No one says you can only write for one house.

3. Know when to pack up and move on. This goes for agents as well as publishing houses. Fear is a big factor in the writing world. And we all get comfortable and sometimes stay too long at the party because the unknown is just terrifying. We’re sure that the agent or editor is going to come through for us if we just wait long enough. Sometimes they do. But sometimes, it won’t get better until you find the courage to step out of the comfort zone.

4. Be dependable. If an editor knows she can count on you to come through for her, she’s going to be more willing to work with you. Trust me on this. Editors have to deal with hundreds of people. If she’s got the choice between working with a flake who consistently lets her down while playing the diva or working with a professional writer who always makes her deadline . . . well, whom would you rather work with?

5. Find friends you can count on. When the writing world gets ugly—and believe me, it does, regularly—you’re going to need a few close friends to pull you through. Be loyal. Don’t tell tales. Celebrate their successes and let them celebrate yours. Sometimes the only thing that holds you together is the voice on the other end of the phone. Treasure your friends. You’re going to need them. Life’s too short for competition. The only writer you’re really up against is yourself.

6. Keep reading. So many times, you get sucked into your own fictional world that you forget other writers are out there, making up fabulous stories. Reading those books is what brought you to this place, remember? Don’t lose the joy of reading.

7. Don’t be afraid to say no. Looking back, there were plenty of times I zigged when I should have zagged. We all make the best decisions we can at the time, but try to slow down. To look at the offer from all sides. Make sure it’s going to be the road you want your career to take.

8. Rejection isn’t permanent. My first book, a Western historical, was rejected all over New York City for a solid year. Everyone loved it, but no one had room for it. On the second round of submissions, the first house that had rejected it before made an offer, and I hadn’t changed a thing. Different editor, different day, different outcome.

9. Get out from behind the computer! I don’t care what you do. Go to the mall, the movies, the beach, the mountains. Sit in the backyard and laugh at the neighbors. But don’t lose touch with the life you’re writing about. If you never see beyond your computer screen, your stories are soon going to sound just as flat as that screen.

10. Give every book you write everything you’ve got. I work as hard now on book number 102 as I did on book number 1. I still worry about getting it ‘right,’ whatever that is.

Trust yourself and never give up. For all the ups and downs, writing is the best job in the world, and you’re a lucky newbie to be heading down this road.


To learn more about Maureen, please visit her Website at or her blog at Her newest book, Falling for King’s Fortune, is available at all major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Lois Kleinsasser writing as Cait London

Cait London is published in 28 countries and has written more than 60 books—historicals, category and series, paranormal, and romantic suspense—under the pseudonyms Cait London and Cait Logan. Her newest book, published by Avon, is A Stranger’s Touch. It is the second in a trilogy about three sisters who each has a special extra sense that may be a blessing or a curse.

Cait, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

Because it’s best to address issues from experience, I am writing from the POV of a traditionally published mass-market author. Since I started writing, the Internet has made a terrific difference in learning how to write and in gathering necessary business skills. The Web has also broadened the playing field and sharpened the competition. Career writing, the markets, the publishers, and the general ball game have changed drastically, ever evolving. But in the (my own) beginning, I wish I’d known the following, which I offer with huge disclaimers.

1. Writing can be a fulfilling career. Surprise, surprise. Unlike others, who have wanted to write since childhood, I began writing in my thirties. I did not intend to be a full-time writer, yet I have been for many years and am still thrilled. Originally, I just wanted to see my name on a cover—just once.

2. Why her and not me? Another surprise: Writing is a business, perhaps more now than ever. It’s not all about a good book. “Building and the long haul” are facets a publisher may consider, not necessarily the story. Today, a publisher may look at developing one writer over another for their promotability. Sometimes, the writer is chosen because he/she has many stories in them or can write quickly.

3. A rejection may have nothing to do with the quality of the story. It may have more to do with the publisher’s budget or another writer filling that slot already. It may have to do with being “orphaned” or the line dying, etc. The line-up is a huge consideration in publishing.

4. On occasion, I wish I’d used these words: “Thank you for the offer. I’d like to think about it. I’ll get back with you.” (Usually, with business flowing as fast as it does, the time lag is just overnight.) The reason? One wrong agreement can set back or stop your career for years. It’s best to consider each agreement carefully. This advice is especially applicable in the case of agency agreements.

5. Spend more time in editing each individual word, the placement of clauses within sentences, and the structure of a paragraph. The structure of a paragraph is important. I learned to place numbers over each sentence and to rearrange them in order.

6. Don’t compare. A published book has gone through many eyes and has been revised and edited many times. To compare that book with your own unpublished drafts is an apples-and-oranges game.

7. Important: Getting away from the desk and computer is essential to refill the well.

8. It took some time to learn this one: The editor isn’t always right. Admittedly, I have written to editorial calls and have not been happy with the result. However, when you’re starting out and trying to build, they are always right. ☺

9. I am only as good as I can be. Others have more, or less, talent. Others have lucky breaks or are not as fortunate as me. Not everyone will love my stories, and that includes editors and publishers. As for sales and career choices, life situations play a huge part in what a writer does or can do. It took awhile to accept that. Many factors affect a writer’s success.

10. The second book published is even more important than the first. Here’s an age-old theory about a writer’s potential career: The first book—it could be a fluke. The second book has to be better. And almost any writer can write five books. After the success of that fifth book, you just may have a career. We’re looking now at people with more than one hundred books on their list.

11. Do not stay with an agent overlong, past the point at which you are thoroughly disillusioned. After that, the arrangement is not based on trust. Hesitancy in changing agents (or publishers) can also derail a potentially fast-moving career.

12. Don’t waste time promoting when you are trying to establish a career. Instead, use that time to produce copy. Get that contract first, work on getting your material on the stands. This advice is especially true in the case of category and series books. Sales are generally determined by the publisher, and the promotions of the author have little to do with it. However, for that first ego burst, or to establish (to yourself) that you’ve “made it,” a few local signings will do.

13. First sale choices: Publishers are not likely to take a trilogy from an unpublished beginner. Better to build that audience first and to use precious writing time and energy in projects more likely to sell. (There are always exceptions to this.)

14. Keep good records. Learn all you can about taxes as applied to the writer. Date articles and note where they were published.


To learn more about Lois/Cait, please visit her Website at or her blog at Her book A Stranger’s Touch is available at all major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Linda Wisdom

Linda Wisdom is a born and bred Californian who was first published in 1980 and has gone on to write more than 70 romance novels. She is presently writing a paranormal series; 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover is out now, and Hex Appeal will come out in November 2008. She and her husband share their house with a spoiled Yorkie/Chihuahua, an Amazon parrot, and a tortoise, all who’ve been in her books.

Linda, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

What did I know about writing and the business of writing when I first started out? Nothing. Did I have anyone to ask? Nope. Did I survive? Considering I sold my first two books in 1979 and I’m still doing it, I must be doing something right. Or I’m just plain lucky.

If I had the knowledge I have today and could go back in time, what would I tell myself?

1. Keep the enthusiasm in your heart and soul even if you wonder why you keep on doing it when you’re hitting a brick wall. Remember that a brick wall is made up of pieces and those pieces can be broken down. Sure, it may take time, it may hurt your head from batting it against it, but the end result will be worth it.

2. I would tell myself that to always look ahead. Look at what you’re doing now and what you want to do down the line. I started out with category romance and then slid into romantic suspense, paranormal, and humorous romance. But paranormal was always my first love. I wrote several category books with paranormal elements, but I knew I wanted to write stronger paranormal and now I’m doing it. Along the way, I honed my craft, didn’t rush it, and made sure it was everything it was supposed to be.

3. Always remember this is a business. A rejection only means that one editor didn’t like it. It’s not personal, and what she/he didn’t like, another can love. Look at what’s said in a rejection, take the suggestions, and use them. Consider it all a learning experience that will make you all the better in the long run. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with all you hear, but keep your listening ears on, as Judge Judy says.

4. One phrase I keep in mind is roll with the punches. There are cycles in writing. Be prepared to roll with them. Know that changing publishers can mean you might be starting all over again. Park your ego at the door and just plain work. There are a lot of examples out there why it’s necessary. But I’ll be nice and just give you one. Years ago I knew an author who had her career mapped out to the nth degree. She planned when she would sell her first book, which would naturally make the top of all the bestseller lists, and when she’d win awards for the book. You name it. When the book was released, she sent out letters to bookstores that pretty much said, “I wrote the absolute best book you will ever read and I know you will love it.” The book didn’t sell well and she never sold another one. Maybe it was because her ego got in the way. And it could also have to do with her writing not catching on with readers.

Writing is a career and a way of life for us.

Of course, I could go back in time and tell myself all of this and I might not believe a word I said. I’d have to learn it all by myself.

So listen to those who’ve paved the way for you. We don’t expect you to agree with all we say, but just remember something: Who better to believe than someone who’s been there?


Visit Linda Wisdom’ MySpace page at and her blog at Her book 50 Ways to Hex Your Lover (Source Books) can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Debra Mullins

Debra Mullins is the author of ten historical romances from Avon Books, including her new release, The Night Before the Wedding, which involves a Scottish curse. For excerpts, check out her Website at or friend her at

Debra, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

Ever wish you could turn back the clock? Do the whole “If I knew then what I know now” deal? Some people wish they could go back to high school with the body of an 18-year-old and the knowledge of a woman twice that age. Me, I sometimes wish I could go back to the days before I got published.

What’s that? I want to turn in my secret handshake? Not at all, dear readers. But there are things I had as a writer struggling to get her work in front of an editor that I don’t have now that I have published ten books. Enthusiasm. Opportunities. Time!

Enthusiasm. Whoever said ignorance is bliss had to be talking about the unpublished writer. Before I got published, all I could see in front of me was that golden finish line—publication. I did the networking. I did the conferences. I did the critique group thing. I spent every minute I could between kids and husband and household chores, working on my latest opus. I wasn’t writing for the market. I wasn’t worried about the cover conference or if the editor would like my hero’s name. I didn’t worry about whether my heroine kicked butt. I was writing the story that burned inside me, the one that demanded to be told. I could feel the power of it coursing through my veins. I just wrote what I saw in my head. Joyfully. Enthusiastically. Passionately.

1. It’s easy to lose sight of that joy once you get published. So the first piece of advice I would give myself is to hang on to that passion, that zeal, with both hands. It’s what brings your work to life. And it’s darned hard to get back once it’s managed to slip away from you.

2. The second piece of advice I would give myself is to prepare for the changes publication will bring. It’s a whole new world. The opportunities I was used to are no longer there. For instance, I can’t enter most chapter contests, even in a completely different genre in which I am not published, which means I can’t get that great anonymous critique of my work for just $25. I have to find different ways of getting feedback, and most of them will not result in my work getting in front of an editor as a finalist. Also, time becomes an issue. I have to make time to write the book, to do revisions, to handle copyedits, to go through page proofs. I have to find time for promotion and Website updates and judging contests. Somewhere in there I have to find time to be inspired again, to do things outside of writing to feed my muse, so the train of success can keep on rolling down the tracks.

Publication does change your life as a writer. Be prepared for that. Have a plan.

Every time I sit down in front of that blank page, I worry about a hundred things I never did before. The editor, the marketing, the cover conference—and does my heroine really, really kick butt?

3. So the last piece of advice I would give to myself, then and now, is to believe in your talent. Trust that when you reach for it, the writing will be there. Then close your eyes and jump into your story. Enjoy the ride.


Visit Debra Mullins’ Website at Her book The Night Before the Wedding is available at all major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

by Shauna Roberts

Today’s Guest: Jennifer Blake

Since publishing her first book at the age of twenty-seven, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jennifer Blake has gone on to pen more than sixty historical and contemporary romances. She brings the seductive passion of the South to her stories, reflecting her seventh-generation Louisiana heritage. Jennifer lives with her husband in northern Louisiana.

Jennifer, if you could travel back in time to before you were first published, what advice would you give yourself?

1. Accept that the type of book sold to your first editor is what she will expect to see from you for subsequent contracts. Don’t change to a different time period, setting, or genre without prior consultation. Case in point: My first two book sales were to Fawcett Gold Medal for their Gothic romance program, and both had historical settings. Then a friend who had researched Hurricane Camille and written a portion of a contemporary mystery-suspense story around it asked that I collaborate with her and publish the book under my name with a 50/50 split of the proceeds. I rewrote her manuscript and submitted it. (This, sad to say, was before query letters and partial submissions.) It was rejected out of hand. A contemporary Gothic was not what Fawcett wanted or expected from me.

The story was published later by Ace Books as Storm at Midnight under the pen name of Elizabeth Trehearne and now sells for $99.99 as a collector’s item due to its low print run. Still, it was a lesson learned the hard way.

2. Don’t assume that being a New York agent or editor automatically confers insight into what’s happening in the marketplace. A couple of years after I published my first book, Kathleen Woodiwiss came out with The Flame and the Flower. On reading it, I was enthralled. I immediately contacted my former agent suggesting that my next book be a historical romance. He replied, “Don’t waste your time. The historical romance is as dead as the dodo.”

What I should have done was send him a copy of Woodiwiss’s book as an example of what I meant. Instead, I assumed he had some kind of inside information indicating there was no market for another such story. The fact was, he didn’t know a new genre was being born, one radically different from the older, male-oriented historical sagas he had in mind. As an avid reader scanning the shelves in the depths of country, I had a better idea of what was going on than he did while ensconced in his New York office. He—and much of the rest of the NY publishing community—didn’t catch up until early 1975 when I was suddenly asked to do a proposal for a historical romance after all.

3. Watch the market, read in the genre, and pay attention to your gut instinct concerning where it’s headed. In the early 1990s, I did in-depth research on a major Civil War campaign in Louisiana for a dramatic historical romance with that setting. When I sent the proposal to my editor, she asked to see something else, saying Civil War romances were a hard sell. Reluctantly, I gave her another story idea. If I’d insisted on doing my Civil War epic, it would have hit the shelves at the same time as Scarlett—and just as Kathryn Falk of Romantic Times Magazine was very kindly telling everyone that I should have been chosen to write this sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

4. Establish a story idea file and capture in it every single idea that comes your way. Stories are like spirits: They fade away if ignored, and you can never depend on them to drift back into your mind again.

5. Don’t be intimidated by editors and agents because you think they operate on a higher, more sophisticated plane. They are just people who have worries and fears, hopes and dreams, wardrobe issues and bad hair days like the rest of us. Offer them the appreciation and cooperation that will make their lives easier, and they’ll do the same in return.

6. Never send an editor more than one book proposal at the time unless you’re prepared to write any story she chooses. Invariably, you’ll be stuck writing the story you liked least.

7. Invest in quality stationery and take the time to send thank you notes for any special consideration shown to you as a writer—for interviews, speaking gigs, book signings, appearances arranged for jobber events, an especially beautiful cover done by the art department, a great blurb written for your book, and so on. The art of the handwritten thank you note is so nearly dead that the novelty of the gesture will make it memorable.

8. Don’t let any of the irritations or disasters that come your way in publishing become personal. It’s a business and you should be professional about it. Though it may be highly satisfying to fire off a hot email or letter in response to some mangling of your work, blow to your career or meddling in your non-writing life, you will always regret it.

9. Nothing you write will ever be perfect; it’s an impossible goal. Do the best you can during the moment at hand, and that will be good enough.

10. Writing is an art for which you must have talent. It’s also a craft that’s learned by studying and endless, endless practice. Nothing you write is ever wasted; it always adds to your knowledge of how to draw people into the heart of your story, how to persuade them to turn the pages of your books. Don’t write just to sell, then, or because you think it’s an easy career. Write for the music of the words slipping through your mind. Write for the magic of being able to invite readers into the story world you’ve created, for the wonder of making them see what you see, hear what you hear, feel what you feel. Write for the joy.


Visit Jennifer Blake’s Website at and her blog at Her book Guarded Heart will be available February 1 at all major bookstores and can be ordered online from and Barnes & Noble.

Interested in learning more about Jennifer? An interview with her appears today at my blog, Shauna Roberts’ For Love of Words.

I’m a go-for-it, goal-setting kind of person so I had to really think hard about the advice I’d give myself if I were just starting out. My mind drew a complete blank, because I never look back with regrets. Every day I learn something new about writing, the craft, the business and the interactions between authors and friends.

When I first started out, I was forewarned not to sell to a flat-rate publisher, but my gut instincts told me, this would be a good move. I wrote 3 books for the Kensington Precious Gems line and still keep in contact with those authors today. As it turned out, my next sale was with Harlequin Historicals and having those Precious Gems books in print, meant something. It provided me with credibility as a published author, got me a very decent advance and established me as a sell-on-proposal author. Nothing but good came from that controversial decision. I trust my instincts and always have.

There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of self-doubt in the publishing world. Writers are always second-guessing themselves, so if you have good instincts, you’re halfway there. Ultimately you have to go with what your heart tells you – I’m a big believer in that. If you fail, you can only point your finger at yourself and say, “Next time, I’ll try harder,” or “Okay, I learned from that, now I’ll do it differently.”

I really believe events in life happen for a reason and that eventually everything will fall into place. With a positive outlook, the glass half full philosophy – lemonade really can be produced when you’re handed a bagful of lemons.

So what would I have done differently?

I could say, nothing.

But that’s not entirely true. I’ve learned a good deal about promotion these past few years. I see newbie published authors struggle with this all the time. They ask themselves how much promotion should I do when I can barely meet my next deadline? What avenues do I tap into that best suit my needs? Your first book might have taken years to write; honing, polishing and revising so when you finally have to deliver a book on deadline, you’re stumped and can barely get the words on the page, much less promote it.

So my advice to myself would be to have learned the ins and outs of promotion a little bit earlier on. As a category author, what kind of promotion works and what doesn’t? How do I best reach my readers and garner new ones? How much do I spend? Are there easier and less expensive ways to do what I’m doing now? And the big one, how do I know it’s working? How do I gauge my own personal success?

I find that now, I’m spending half my time working on promoting my books and half my time writing them. It’s truly 50/50. I’ve sought advice from professionals, read everything I could on promotion, taken workshops and trusted my own instincts when it came to decision-making.

The second piece of advice I might give myself, would be to write for one line, solely. There are definite advantages in doing that, but there are disadvantages as well.

The advantage is that you build a readership more rapidly. If you’re a prolific writer and can produce several books in one year, the readers recognize you and you tend to do better in that one line. Establishing yourself as a writer of hot, sizzling love stories, or fun, light-hearted romps or military thrillers will bring you readers who will love what you write, eagerly await your next story and always buy your books. Every author wants to be an “auto-buy.”

I write for two lines, Harlequin Historical and Silhouette Desires. I’ve split them down the middle, writing equally for both.

I feel writing in two time periods keeps my writing fresh and compelling. When I’ve had my fill of urban alpha males in the corporate world, I mosey on over to my western writing roots and delve into my cowboy stories. And when I tire of no indoor plumbing, I head back to the contemporary settings. It’s ideal for me in a craft sense. I love writing both.

Having been involved in various lines folding, I feel it’s a little safer writing for two lines. It’s the “cover-your-butt” philosophy that seems to work for me. But is it wise to have two very diverse readerships? Honestly, I don’t know. There comes a time when you have to distinguish between what’s right for you business-wise and what’s right for you as an author? What’s most important is that you write what you love and you love what you write.

Then everything else falls into place and you take that tall drink of homemade lemonade.

Charlene Sands
Winner 2006 National Readers’ Choice Award
Bodine’s Bounty – November 2007
The Corporate Raider’s Revenge – January 2008
Taming the Texan – March 2008

by Rebecca Forster

Here’s the truth: every book you write will feel like the first one, every day you face a blank computer screen you will feel like an amateur, every minute you spend waiting to hear from an editor or agent will leave you second guessing your experience, your talent, your purpose and your creativity.

If this doesnt scare you, then congratulations and welcome to the writer’s club. You are doing what almost everyone in the world dreams of and you’re doing it despite naysayers and, sometimes, your own self doubt. The first step is a heady, marvelous, challenging moment – one you’re destined to take many times over in the course of your creative career.

As I write this, I am sitting in my favorite writing spot – a coffee shop overflowing with Salvation Army furniture, an eclectic clientèle, and spotty Internet access – hoping to I will hear good news from my agent. While I wait, my brain is pinging between the project that is finished but not sold, another one that is in the proposal stage, the zygote of a new idea, housework undone, bills that need to be paid, kids in college and a weekend away with my husband. Nothing is really getting done and it’s time for me to ground myself yet again.

I have published twenty books in three genres and even enjoyed a flash-bang moment of bestseller status. I have taught writing at university extension programs and been engaged for hundreds of speaking engagements. Most days, though, I feel as green as Al Gore. In analyzing myself and my work I find I am a creative schizophrenic. I have a short attention span but can work for twelve hours editing a manuscript without lifting my head, I am instantly energized and just as quickly disheartened, I am impatient yet can wait like a loyal dog to hear from an editor, I am creative but have to work hard to sustain that creativity.

In the final analysis, I am like every other new or experienced author. We are all newbies because of the nature of the beast we are trying to tame. Publishing and reading fashion are ever changing, editors are in constant flux, new media competes for a consumer’s disposable dollars and booksellers struggle. Knowing all this I must remind myself to relentlessly reengage as a writer, businesswoman, promoter and thoughtful craftsperson. Daily I search for that focused place that will allow me to write effectively. I walk the fine line between taking comfort in past success and worrying about future rejection.

And so, I give counsel myself. Usually this advice is predicated by a swift kick to my emotional rear: self-pity is equally as dangerous as blind faith in my own brilliance. For what it’s worth, my advice to myself as a newbie is the same advice I give to myself as a published author. It works for me, perhaps one or two suggestions will work for you.

1. Write with abandon; edit with discipline and objectivity

2. Acknowledge your talent and develop your writing intelligence. Talent will get you started; intelligence will move you forward.

3. Find one person with an honest, consistent voice who will tell you the truth about your work. Often this is a reader, not a writer.

4. Listen to your critique group but go with your gut. Logic beats emotion. You can’t please everyone. Give weight to #3.

5. Rejection letters are the Mother Lode. Mine them for every bit of of actionable information.

6. Never, ever get angry with an editor. They want you to succeed. They have neither the time nor inclination to reject you just for fun.

7. When you are completely blocked go play tennis or golf or garden or quilt. Do something physical and forget about writing for a day, a month, a year. The spark will come back.

8. Learn the business. All of it. Publishing, bookselling, public relations, public speaking, contracts and finances. Relate all information to your creative effort.

9. Celebrate a contract with your family first then with your writing buddies.

10. Thank people who help you and ask for help when you need it.

Best wishes for good writing and successful selling.

Rebecca Forster

by Diane Pershing

Here’s the thing about advice: I don’t like it. I don’t like to get it and I don’t like to dish it out. Now, that’s in theory, of course. In real life I too often tell people what they ought to do in any given situation, even when they haven’t asked for input. And I’m always getting little pointers from friends on anything from where to buy the best shoes for wide feet to which retirement community I ought to be looking into for my aging mom to which of the Food Network shows might appeal to someone who doesn’t eat sugar and is always trying to “cut down.” Having a theory is easy; living it is hard.

See, the thing about advice—the unsolicited kind, that often begins with “If you don’t mind me saying…” or “You should…”—is that it sends a subliminal message saying “The way you are doing it now is wrong.” It can be coated with all kinds of caveats but that’s the one. And I don’t know about you but I’m always thinking that someone, somewhere knows better than I do how to do everything, and advice reinforces it. That’s why my back gets stiff when I’m offered unasked-for words of wisdom, and why when I find myself about to do it—I am human, after all, right?—I try to shut up before the words pass my lips. The thing is no one is doing anything the right or wrong way. They’re doing the best they can and that has to be enough.

Okay, all that being said, if I have any advice for new writers (after all, I’m blogging at the actual request of someone, right?), it’s to say Yes. Yes to writing down a random thought or idea for a book or a character or a scene. Yes to attending classes given by experienced writers. Yes to attending conferences, to submitting your work to contests, to sharing your work with people you trust and respect and taking in their feedback. Yes to incorporating it into your work if possible but not if it doesn’t resonate with you. Yes to listening to the small, inner voice that says to find the time to do this thing you’ve wanted to do for years but have been putting off because you’re guilty about taking time away from family or other commitments, or because you don’t think enough of yourself to follow through, or you have a rock-bottom, core belief you’re not good enough.

By the way, the other thing I tell new writers is to say No. No to people who are toxic to your dreams, no to people who love to criticize but have no solutions, no to the negative inner voices that may be part of us all, but when we listen to them we give them the upper hand, and I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like giving power to anything that tells me I’m not good enough. Gets my back up, you know?

As you can tell, I don’t have any ABC-type pointers today; there are lots of teachers and writers out there with excellent ones to share, so make use of them. Instead I’ll close with some random thoughts I have about writing in general (taken from a recent on-line class I taught) and I hope worth something to someone somewhere:

Writing is not easy; it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done.

If I fall in love with a phrase or a sentence or paragraph and am having to re-write a whole section just to be sure to keep that phrase or sentence or paragraph in, it probably has to go. I always get sad about this, but I always get over it. For this purpose I have created a MISC. REJECTS file. All of them go in there, and I am always determined I will use these brilliant phrases or sentences or paragraphs one day in something else. So far, I never have.

When dealing with editors and agents, I try to be warm and open, but I always keep in mind that this is a business and we are not friends. I try to have very few expectations or fantasies about them; inevitably they will disappoint me if I do.

When others ask me, uninvited, to help them “get published” I cordially tell them it’s not in my power to do so. If they ask me, uninvited, to read their stuff, I cordially tell them my own writing takes up too much of my time to deal with other people’s writing and suggest they join a writer’s or critique group. I try never to act put out. If they are displeased, it’s not my problem; I am responsible for my actions, not other people’s reactions.

I always hope my editor will accept a manuscript exactly as it is; this has never happened.

For all of my nineteen book sales, I have had at least twice as many rejections. Over the years, they hurt less. I just keep plowing on.

I have an answering machine instead of voice mail. That way I can monitor my calls while I’m writing. I am not guilty when I don’t pick up the phone.

I am about to embark on a Single Title Woman’s Fiction novel—some romance but more about other relationships, and as much sex as I feel comfortable writing. The last time I tried I was turned down by six prominent editors; it’s taken a while to get up the courage to try again.

I am a strong woman. I am a feminist. I love reading and writing romances. If I didn’t—if I had any shame or discomfort about it—I wouldn’t be doing it.

Sometimes what’s on the page is doo doo and I can only hope tomorrow will be better. It usually is.

I love words, always have. I love books, always have. I raised my children to love words and books and, thank god, they do.

Most of my ideas come from dreams or random thoughts that begin with “What if?” As the years go on, there is more of a direct connection to my creativity/unconscious and I am less and less in my own way. It wasn’t like this in the beginning, not in the least. I used to tie myself up in knots over what I wasn’t getting down on the page. I am so glad time has passed and I’ve gotten older. No kidding.

I hate a lot of my books’ covers, and a great many of their titles, but I’ve learned that I don’t have a lot of control in that department. Argggghhhh.

I love other writers. I laugh more in their company than I do with any other type of human being.

I despise envy. I especially despise it when I sense it in myself, but, alas, it does come up. I work on it.

I give thanks every day that I am not a perfectionist. If it’s 90% there, I’m happy.

I never have writers’ block; every time I sit down to write, I do. It’s getting me to that chair that can be a huge problem. I wish I were more disciplined; never have been, most likely won’t be.

If I didn’t enjoy the act of writing, I wouldn’t be doing it. Hope you feel the same way.

Diane Pershing’s May release from Silhouette Romantic Suspense, ONE COOL LAWMAN, received a “4 ½ stars, Top Pick” rating from “Romantic Times.”

by Judy Duarte

It seems like only yesterday—or at least last year!—when I walked into my very first OCC meeting, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping and dreams soaring.

So when I was asked to take part in this blog, how could I say no? Still, I had to give it some thought. What advice would I give myself as a newbie author?

This is what I came up with—

If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I’ll tell you why.

As an avid reader of romance, I began to harbor a growing compulsion to write a book of my own until it was impossible to ignore. Trouble was I had no idea what to do or where to start.

However, I’ve come to believe that God doesn’t put a dream on one’s heart without giving a person the power to make it come true.

Call it what you will—a divine gift or just plain serendipity—but some things are much more powerful than the muse.

In 1996, while scanning a schedule for the UC Irvine office of extended studies, I noticed a class titled “How to Write a Romance Novel” and jumped at the chance to learn everything I needed to know…in one single weekend. Imagine that!

Lesson #1 to self: There is something to learn every single day, and being published doesn’t change that.

Had I realized that it would take much longer than a weekend to learn all I needed to know—and I’m still learning, by the way—I might not have stuck around long enough to see my dream to fruition. But I was enthusiastic, driven and hopeful, which is the first thing I wouldn’t change.

At the class, I met several aspiring romance novelists who all shared the same dream I had. One of them, Sheri WhiteFeather, was writing a paranormal time travel. Now, I didn’t particularly read or like paranormals, but there was something that drew me to Sheri. She was the only one in the group who seemed to share the same burning desire to make our dreams come true. So I volunteered to read her work and agreed to send her mine. This, by the way, is the second thing I wouldn’t do differently.

Lesson # 2 to self: When it comes to finding the right critique partner, it’s not a matter of searching for someone who lives near you and has Thursday evenings free. Nor is it a matter of finding someone who writes in the same subgenre you do. It’s finding someone who shares the same drive and who is willing to become a teammate in your own dream to succeed.

Someone in our UC Irvine class mentioned an organization called Romance Writers of America. And can you believe it? There was a chapter in Orange County. After attending my first meeting, I went home in awe. I also blocked out every second Saturday on my calendar for the next year. I knew without a doubt that would be the secret to success.

Before long, I realized there was a wealth of knowledge available via RWA, a treasure trove of information and resources to tap into. So I attended every OCC meeting, signed up for every possible conference and workshop, and learned all I could cram into my brain. Soon the doors began to open up for me.

Lesson # 3 to self: Seize every opportunity to hone your craft and to network with other authors.

Several months later, I headed south to the San Diego State Writer’s Conference, wanting to absorb all I could about the craft of writing. I was also hoping to meet an editor or agent who would take on my work and see me through to publication.

Lesson # 4 to self: The journey will probably take longer than you think, so try to enjoy it. And expect to get discouraged at times—it’s often part of the trip. I suspect there are plenty of unpublished authors out there who are more talented than I am, but if they lack perseverance, they may never see their dreams come true.

At the SDSU Conference, I met Chris/Crystal Green, and she soon joined our critique group. I now had two of the best critique partners in the world. We all lived an hour away from each other, which meant meeting regularly wasn’t possible. But we shared that same burning desire to be published. And we wanted it as bad for each other as we wanted it for ourselves. We went so far as to make a commitment to read and critique each other’s work and get it back within a 24-hour period of time. Soon we thought of each other as the three musketeers: one for all, and all for one!

Once that first book was finished, I honestly believed it was just a matter of time before an agent or editor snatched up my masterpiece and placed me on the New York Times list.

Lesson # 5 to self: Just because God placed the dream to be published on your heart doesn’t mean He won’t require a great deal of work on your part.

Sheri was the first to sell, and it made Chris and I even more determined to follow in her footsteps. Then Chris sold. I was thrilled for them. But then the seeds of doubt began to sprout. Did I really have the talent they’d insisted I had? Would I ever get the call?

There were a few iffy moments, I have to admit.

Lesson # 6 to self: As Gary Provost said: You need three things for success…talent, good luck and persistence. If you have persistence, you only need one of the other two!

Four manuscripts, fifteen conferences, too many contests to remember, a scrapbook full of rejections, and scores of OCC meetings later, the rejection letters became more and more promising, the contest scores closer to the top. Then things really began to click. My third historical romance won the 2000 Orange Rose. And six months later, my first contemporary romance won the Emily contest. In 2001, I became a double Golden Heart finalist.

In May 7, 2001, while alone in the office at work and pumped full of vicodin because of a pending root canal, I finally got the call. Silhouette Special Edition wanted to buy my first book. And thanks to the meds, I had to wait two weeks before I could celebrate with champagne. But what a celebration it was!

Twenty-five sales later, the desire to write and sell is still strong, the wait on word from my editor about a proposal is still nerve wracking, and the call with an offer is still nearly as thrilling as the first. And so is the love of writing.

So if I had it all to do over again, there’s really nothing I would change. But I suspect it’s best that I didn’t know how long it would take. Had I known it wasn’t just around the corner, I might have lost the dream and the drive to succeed.

Lesson # 7 to self and to anyone else who will listen: Never quit dreaming, never quit trying, never quit honing your craft. Dreams come true—but not if you give up.

An avid reader who enjoys a happy ending, Judy Duarte couldn’t shake the dream of writing a book of her own. In March of 2002, her first Special Edition, COWBOY COURAGE, was released. Since then, she has sold twenty-four more books to Silhouette and two women’s fiction novels to Kensington, including DEAR GOD… which will be published in April of 2008.

Judy’s books have made the Waldenbooks Bestseller lists and have won her a National Reader’s Choice Award. When she’s not cooped up in her writing cave, she’s spending time with her somewhat enormous, but delightfully close family in Southern California. You can contact Judy through her website at:

1 Comment

  • Anonymous
    on April 25, 2007

    Hey there, Judy! I loved your advice! Thanks for contributing to OCC’s new column in our blog.

    I hope to see you at the next meeting so I can get a copy of your latest.

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