It’s a very strange feeling when your wildest dreams come true. Stranger still when life exceeds them. Just over eleven months ago, my debut novel for Mills & Boon was published and this week, my sixth Mills & Boon novel will hit the shelves.
That’s SIX MILLS & BOON books in less than a year.
Reading that, writing it, just blows my mind, but I’m also cognisant of the fact it creates the impression that my dreams came true ‘overnight’, when nothing could be further than the truth. My story isn’t one of ‘instant achievement’, so much as it is one of persistence.
I have wanted to be a romance writer for almost as long as I can remember. I wrote historicals as a pre-teen, when I had already been caught in the delightfully addictive nets of Austen and Heyer. It wasn’t long however before I turned my hand to Mills & Boons. I began to write, and to write earnestly, at fourteen, submitting my first manuscript to Mills & Boon at fifteen. It was rejected.
I continued to write and began to submit seriously back in 2013. I wasn’t writing cleverly though. I loved my stories but they weren’t a good fit for the series lines, and I wasn’t part of a writing group or support crew that would help me see that. To be honest, though I read Mills & Boons voraciously, I think I’m unusual in that I never gravitated towards a particular line so much as I did my favourite authors and tropes. More often than not, that took me to Presents/Modern/Sexy books, but I also adored medical and romance, so long as the hero was a dashing millionaire (inflation hadn’t caught up with our fictional heroes and a millionaire was still awe-inspiring). So I wrote love stories with scant attention paid to any one line in particular.
Rejections hurt. Every book we write, as authors, carries a lot of blood, sweat and tears and represents genuine, bonafide work. Never mind that writing might be, for you as it is for me, an absolute pleasure, it is still an act of effort. For me, writing also represents sacrifice. Time away from my family, socialising with friends that I’ve chosen to miss so I can hit my (often self-imposed and utterly crazy) deadlines. But we sacrifice because we can’t not – in my experience, it’s not a choice. I see my stories as the springs in my Jack in the Box, and they keep winding and winding until eventually they pop out of my head. If I don’t sit down to write, the spring keeps turning and my head just hits against the tin of the box! It hurts my brain! I needs to write, preciousses.
Each story I write is a story I cherish and love, and so the prospect of having it be rejected, having someone read it and not ascribe the same value to it as I do – it hurts. But it’s a part of the process, for most of us, and it helps to take comfort from the fact that you’re following in the steps of many, many, many authors that came before you.
It was seventeen years after I submitted my first novel to Mills & Boon that I had a manuscript accepted by them. My resulting experience with them has been beyond anything I could ever have hoped. I’m lucky because I didn’t give up in the face of rejection, and I’m grateful because I persisted, clinging to my dream of becoming a part of the romance publisher that the world trusts with its heart. What an honour; what a thrill!
I was contacted by a social media friend this morning and asked for advice. It’s got me thinking along these lines, you see.
So, here’s what I would say to myself five years ago.
No matter what you’re writing, I urge you to write for the love of it, because you can’t not, and see rejections as a stepping stone along the way. Like life experiences, each book teaches you something, and while it might not be a book that achieves publication, it will show you something valuable that leads to your next book’s success. Don’t let anyone else’s criticism frame your own love of what you’re doing. If writing is what you do, do it. Remember that rejections don’t mean your work isn’t good, they mean it’s not commercially viable for a publishing house at that point. If you want to write to become published to make a career from your writing, I believe you have to be, in part, commercially-minded. Pay attention to what’s selling, and if you’re targeting romance series, do as I say, not as I did, and familiarise yourself with that series completely, particularly the authors who are releasing lots of books and selling well.
And keep writing! As soon as you submit, begin the next book. Move on, let the other one go – it takes the sting out of rejection if you’re already knee-deep in the wonderment of a whole new world of people and their problems.
This was a far wafflier post than I intended so if you’re still here, thanks for reading and happy writing!
*I’m not counting my indie books in that total – if I were, it would be a fourteen book year. Okay. Imma gonna go nap for a decade now.