STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS
A Personal History of Rejection
I hate to brag, but my first manuscript was rejected only once--chiefly because I sent it out only once. It was a standard form rejection letter from Silhouette. Not what we're looking for at this time. The bottom dropped out for a few hours. I mean, my mother and sisters had loved it. What was the matter with these editors? Rather than discourage me, though, the rejection spurred me on. From the start of this journey, it's always been my habit to begin a new project as soon as I send a proposal out. I knew that my writing was changing and growing and that my voice was slowly developing. The rejection stunned me for awhile--I think everyone dreams of hitting the mark the first time out--but I already knew I could do better.
My second rejection was a trifle more personal. I don't care for the premise, the editor of a long gone romance novel publisher that I can't even remember the name of wrote. But please keep trying and good luck. I pushed that manuscript a little more than I had the first one so it also collected a couple of rejections from agents. The worst one turned out to not even be mine. I was halfway through the rejection letter before I realized that the agent was referring to a manuscript about the Viet Nam war. When I called her to find out what had happened to my manuscript, she had no idea, nor did she seem inclined to find out. Rejection coupled with indifference made me more angry than sad. That anger further fueled my determination.
My third manuscript received no rejections at all. First, it snagged me an agent and then a contract with Harlequin American. But when the twelve-page revision letter arrived, it felt more like a rejection than any real rejection I'd ever received. The scope of the revisions prompted me to ask the editor why she bought the manuscript in the first place. I loved it, she said. I love your writing. But the story is too mainstream. You just need a little direction. Ripping apart that story to make it fit into Harlequin American was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, but I learned a lot about writing--and about myself--in the process. That first editor taught me about pacing. She also forced me to let go of my ego and do what was best for the story. Seducing Spencer became the highest selling American Romance for the month it came out.
Harlequin American bought my next manuscript, as well. I'd managed to avoid the dreaded second book syndrome! I'm in, I thought. I have a writing career! Silly me. My next proposal for American was--you guessed it--rejected. I'd been assigned to another editor and this one wasn't such a fan. Too episodic, the new editor proclaimed. Too light. Not enough substance. Plus, the word jewelry was used on the first page. This, at the time, was a no-no according to the marketing department. Books that have the word jewelry on the front or back cover or the front page do not do well, I was told. Seriously, folks. But, if I wanted to rework the story, they'd be happy to take another look. I liked the characters enough to try again. The second time around clicked. Harlequin American bought the revised manuscript and Romancing Annie won the WisRWA Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category in 1996.
American bought my next two proposals, as well. Okay, I thought, now I must finally have this thing licked. Not true. After writing five books for American, my next effort was rejected. The hero's profession as a writer does not help his sex appeal, yet another new editor stated. Artists and writers do not do well for American and the heroine isn't well defined enough nor is there enough conflict. This time, I didn't love the characters enough to try finger-to-keyboard resuscitation. I let them die in peace.
Onward to yet another proposal for American--and another rejection. The hero's profession as an animal behaviorist doesn't help his sex appeal and the private-eye heroine is too tough. Role reversals rarely work at American. Man, two in a row. I was starting to think I was in the wrong genre. Then I got a call from my agent that Harlequin was interested in having me submit something for their romantic comedy line Love and Laughter. I seemed to have hit a dead end at American so I was more than game to try something new.
At Love and Laughter, they liked my style, they liked my voice, but the story just wasn't funny enough. They rejected it. I was encouraged to push the comedic envelope. And boy did I push. I wrote a rollicking 'road story' of opposites attracting. By this time, Love and Laughter had morphed into Duets and my agent had announced she was closing her agency but she was pretty sure this new proposal would sell. Losing my agent was another blow. I felt like I was walking into the darkness all by myself, but it turned out my ex-agent was right. Birgit Davis-Todd loved the manuscript and bought it for Duets. I was assigned to work with Kathryn Lye, who I suspected was a little dubious about the project. It was the first time I'd worked with an editor who hadn't originally bought the manuscript and I was a little apprehensive. As it turned out, Kathryn and I were a good fit. When we met in person at the WisRWA conference, I casually pitched an idea for a trilogy for Duets to her over drinks in the bar. She liked it. We kicked the premise around and she requested a proposal. That led to my first multi-book contract. Three books! At last, I thought, I know what my future holds! Okay, that might have been a tad optimistic. But at least I knew what I'd be doing for the next year. It felt like there was solid ground underneath me at last.
Ah, but how the sand can shift with time. I'd finished the first two manuscripts and was halfway through the third in the trilogy for Duets when I got the news that Duets was closing it's covers for good the month before the first book in my trilogy was due to be released. The new romantic comedy line, Flipside, was moving more in the direction of urban chick-lit. They didn't want any small town stories and they didn't want any slapstick. My trilogy was based on my own hometown--population on a good day of about nine thousand--and there were plenty of prat-falls. I had learned to push the comedic envelope pretty well but had still run into another dead end. So, what was going to happen to my manuscripts now? No one knew for sure, but I was advised to stop working on the third book in the series until further notice. So, I waited. And waited. And while I waited, I worked on a proposal I hoped to submit to Temptation. I didn't want to work on something else for Flipside until I knew if they thought my work could fit in. Besides, I needed some stability and Temptation had been around for awhile. I assumed, wrongly, that they'd be around forever.
Finally, I heard that Flipside did want my completed Duets manuscripts, with some changes, of course. I subscribed to Cosmopolitan and Glamour Magazines for research and got down to work. Those manuscripts became Finding Mr. Perfect and Random Acts of Fashion. Meanwhile, my editor rejected the idea I'd sent in for Temptation but suggested I rework it for Flipside. I still owed them a book for the three book contract I'd signed. I was getting pretty good at this chick-lit romantic comedy so I went for it. I rewrote and reworked and submitted it. I felt at home enough again to start on another Flipside proposal. Then came the phone call. Flipside was being scuttled. Not again, I lamented. This couldn't happen to me twice! But there was good news, too. Flipside still had some room on their schedule and they were going to buy my last proposal. That manuscript became Crime and Engagement. I loved writing that book and I was convinced it was my best one yet. But it was like working under a cloud. I felt like a lame duck writer and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next.
But next came Next, Harlequin's new women's fiction line with older heroines. After more than ten years of ups and downs, I was now considerably older myself. I cancelled my subscriptions to Cosmo and Glamour, wrote a three-chapter proposal and submitted it. It was another big challenge because the story was in first person and it wasn't really a romance novel. It had to be closer to mainstream than anything I'd written so far. Waiting to find out if I'd hit the mark made it tough to start something else for them. I'd heard that American Romance had re-grouped and was going strong again so I started to work on something that I thought might work for them just in case Next wasn't next for me. By this time, I'd learned to never take anything for granted when it came to this business. Change is constant. Anything can happen while you're sitting in that desk chair, focusing on your work. But the next call from my editor was a good one. I was offered a two book contract for Next--even though I'd only sent them one proposal. I'd managed to give them what they were looking for. And they wanted more.
It feels good to have come this far once again--to be under contract once again. But I tell myself it's best not to get complacent. Another rejection, another line closing, could be just around the corner. You have to push on, though. Because that's what writers do. We write. Sure, when you get those rejections, you cry or you scream or you blast some Bruce Springsteen on the CD player in defiance of the unfairness of it all.
And then, you begin again.