Please give MSW guest author Brenda Novak a round of applause! (Sorry I’m late today, I completely spaced last night because I wasn’t on-line while I read page-proofs.)
I’ve known Brenda for nearly 20 years. On New Years Eve in 1992, I was at Brenda’s house for a party with my then-fiance Dan (now my husband) and mutual friends. Fast-forward 13 years and I met Brenda through our local RWA chapter, the Sacramento Valley Rose, at my first meeting in January of 2003. She didn’t remember me, but I definitely remembered her! She was speaking on the panel, and I was hooked on RWA from then on. Brenda and I both have five children (though all but one of hers is older than mine) and we’re both college drop-outs. 🙂 Brenda has three novels this fall–WHITE HEAT (out now), BODY HEAT (just released Aug 31) & KILLER HEAT (on sale Sept 28.) She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May through her website. To date, she’s raised over $1 million! She has so much energy and drive she makes me tired, and that’s a feat!
Lately when I blog I’ve been answering the questions I’m asked most often as a writer. One of the most popular–if not THE most popular–is: How did you get published?
It’s difficult to break into the fiction market. Almost everybody I’ve ever met wants to write a book. Not everyone does, of course, but there are enough who do to create a very crowded marketplace. As a result, getting published–and getting published well; there is a different–has a lot to do with building credibility and setting yourself apart from the pack. Because I was “just” a housewife and mother of five, who didn’t even have a college degree (I left a full-ride academic scholarship to marry and start a family at twenty), I knew I needed to do something to give the editors in New York a reason to pull my manucript out of the slush pile. I did that by entering writing contests.
Thankfully, I placed in 90% of the contests I entered, including the Golden Heart, a national contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Once I had a nice long list, I felt as if I had some credentials I could put in my query letter that might get me some attention.
I didn’t want to approach editors without an agent, however. Editors use agents as a sifting device, and I wanted to avail myself of every possible advantage. So I started by querying agents. I received several form-letter rejections, as well as some less formal and more encouraging responses. Then an agent named Pamela Ahearn from Louisiana wrote to tell me that she liked what she’ d seen of my work. She asked me to send her the rest of the manuscript–and a few months later offered to represent me.
It took Pam almost a year to sell OF NOBLE BIRTH. I was rejected by St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Avon Books, Bantam and probably a couple of others I can no longer recall before HarperCollins offered me a contract. It was August 26, 1998 when I got THE CALL, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about anything (except maybe hitting The New York Times on June 16, 2008, almost ten years later). My editor was Robin Stamm, a young but eager junior editor working with Laura Cifelli, and I loved her.
Fortunately, HarperCollins liked the title of my book well enough to let me keep it. They gave me a beautiful cover and a release date of November 1999, and I thought I was all set for my new career in publishing. But before my book ever reached a bookstore, HarperCollins bought Avon and let all their romance editors go. This meant that I was “orphaned.”
My career could’ve ended right there. I was a fledging writer, my first book still in production, and I had no advocate at the house. Robin had already read my next two manuscripts, which were historical romances like OF NOBLE BIRTH, and liked them. Before leaving on vacation, she told me that we’d go to contract when she returned, but she was let go right afterward so the contracts never materialized. Being so new and untried, I wasn’t particularly high up on the list of authors HarperCollins was eager to retain–so they cut me loose, too.
It was a setback that could’ve been devastating, except for one thing. I’d gone to a small regional conference in Park City, Utah just a few months before, where I’d met an editor from Harlequin by the name of Paula Eykelhof. Although I’d never dreamed I’d write a contemporary romance, I decided to pitch to her simply because I had the opportunity.
I look back on that day now and wonder what possessed me to do such a thing when I was so sure I had my historical career on track, but I’m definitely glad I did. I liked Paula so well I went home and wrote a proposal to submit to her–a proposal she eventually bought. That book came out in February 2000, and we’ve done 36 books together since, including the Department 6 trilogy coming out now–WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT and KILLER HEAT.