A famous author once said to me, “You’ll never get published writing like that.”
It was a defining moment of my writing life.
That author was multi-published, and has probably forgotten more about the business of writing than I will ever know. I mean, I might have been writing all my life, but when it came to the business of writing, I was a newbie who hadn’t a clue where she was going or what she was doing. I didn’t even know what genre I wanted to settle into and write. I just wanted to write, get my writing out there, make a living from it. And I was hungry to learn all I could from the friendly folks in the romance writing community.
And this multi-published author was sitting there telling me I was never going to get published writing the way I was?
It was comment that made me cry, and it certainly made me angry. But most importantly, it was a comment that made me think.
About what I wanted to achieve with my writing, where I wanted to go. How I wanted to go about it.
That author had never read my writing. She had no idea whether I was good, bad or indifferent. She was talking about the way I wrote, not the quality of my writing.
You see, I’ve always been a seat-of-pants writer. I don’t plot. I get the germ of an idea-sometimes a scene, sometimes just a line or two-and away I go. I follow that story through to end, letting the characters and the plot develop ‘organically.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
And that’s what I thought the author was talking about-that the organic way I was writing meant I would never get published. In between trying to change my style and become a plotter, I ranted and raved about the audacity of that author-I mean, famous or not, who was she to destroy a person’s dreams so blithely? What right had she to make a statement like that without even seeing what I was producing?
The answer, of course, is simple. She wasn’t trying to do any of that , but sometimes a seemingly harsh comment can take a while to sink in and make sense.
What she was actually talking about came down to one thing-my habit of following trends. In my eagerness to learn all I could to get published, I was trying the old ‘throw as many irons in the fire and see what catches’ method of writing. If I heard on the grapevine that Harlequin wanted more novels for their romance line, I wrote those. If they wanted more intrigue, I wrote those. I didn’t research, I didn’t read, I just wrote. How hard could it be, right?
Yeah, okay, stop laughing. I was new to the business, remember.
What I didn’t understand, and what that author was trying to get me to realize, is that following trends is fine if you understand the genre and that’s where you want your writing to go. But Harlequin Mills and Boon wasn’t actually what I read. Not consistently. I enjoyed them when I read them, but my real reading love was the weirder stuff-horror and fantasy mixed in with a real world setting. Not the sort of stuff I could send to Harlequin Mills and Boon. Not back then.
So, why was I attempting Harlequin Mills and Boon? Because I believed it was an easier road to publication than attempting the huge wall that is single title publication.
And as that author said, I would never have gotten published writing like that.
Because my lack of knowledge of the market and the style demanded by that market showed through just as much as the fact that I didn’t love what I was writing.
However harsh those words seemed at the time, they achieved one vital thing-they made me stop and think. Eventually, anyway. They made me realize that I really did want a career out of this writing gig, and to do that, not only did I actually have to care about what I wrote, but I had to understand the inherent rules and requirements of that market.
It was a tough decision to sit down and write what I loved rather than write what I believed would sell. The market for paranormal romances and urban fantasy was basically a big fat zero at the time. Absolutely no one wanted them. But I persisted, I kept on learning, and eventually, I got published. First with ImaJinn, and now with Bantam. And best of all, I’m writing in the genres I love.
So, while I would never come out and tell someone ‘you’ll never get published writing like that’, I’ll certainly pass on the intent behind those words.
Write what you understand and love. It’s not only the best path to publication, but it’s probably the best way to remain published.
And I’ll add in my own bit of advice-no matter how harsh the words seem at the time, try to understand the intent behind them.
And always, always, believe in yourself as a writer. Anything is possible as long as you don’t give up.