Wow. So what a crazy summer this was. And a big part of the craziness was really the whole Golden Heart thing, and how that became an absolute game-changer for me.
I had no idea how big a contest it was. I’d heard of it, of course, around the Romance Writers of America (RWA) classes that I took from time to time, or from my romance-writing friends who are members of RWA. My critique partner Patti had mentioned the Golden Heart several times, and what a boon it would be to final, and I’d seen the designation on several writers’ signatures over the years, or even on their books.
But I’d never joined RWA (mostly because I worried that going to meetings or getting involved in a club would take too much time away from my writing, and I had very little time as it was, narrowed down to just a couple of weekends a month).
So last year, my crit partner suggested I enter “Earning Wings,” since it was finally done and I’d had it beta read extensively, and I thought … meh. I didn’t know if it would be worth the trouble. I didn’t have a synopsis for it yet, and I thought my time would be better spent sending out query letters to agents.
But my query letters were getting me nowhere. A big part of breaking into any kind of publishing is getting your manuscript read by people who can sign you. And man, that’s hard. … I blindly sent query letters out to various agents, asking them to read my manuscript. But they don’t know me. They don’t know my name. I’m sure my query letters ended up at the bottom of a slush pile somewhere. (The modern day slush pile probably looks like an email folder with millions of emails in it, all unread.) I got a few responses, but they all seemed like form letters saying, “Thanks, but we have no room on our lists for anything like this right now. …” It was disheartening, to say the least.
I sent out nearly ten queries, and I was gunning for my requisite 25, which everyone says you need to send before you can even think about feeling frustrated, so I was prepping another set of five when my crit partner mentioned the Golden Heart again.
“Why not?” she asked.
When I mentioned again the lack of a synopsis, she told me to write the damned synopsis! I couldn’t put it off forever (although I tried), especially because a lot of the agents coming up on my list required one anyway. So I finally finished the one I’d started in February. Blah! And, feeling vaguely satisfied, I decided to send the ms into the Golden Heart in November of last year.
I was kind of excited about sending it in once I did it. They still do it the old fashioned way, by printing out a bunch of copies and stuffing them into a giant box, and rushing them to the post office to get the right time stamp on it. (Although that might have been the last year they’re doing it by snail mail. I got to enjoy that what-will-soon-be-old-fashioned experience just under the wire!) Anyway, I was pretty satisfied with myself (as I told here), but I honestly didn’t think anything would come of it. They get over 1,000 entries a year, after all!
I was so out of it, in fact, and so sure I wasn’t going to place, that I didn’t even know when “The Calls” went out, although apparently everyone else in the romance community does. When March 26 rolled around, apparently all 1,000 entrants were waiting by the phone, but me — clueless — I didn’t even answer it. I was blow-drying my hair, trying to get to work! But when I heard the message that it was from RWA, I thought … huh. … could it be that contest?
I eventually called back, just before I was going to leave for work, and was stunned to find out that yes, it was that contest. In fact, the call was from Jeanne Adams, romantic suspense writer! (Cool how RWA does that, having famous published writers call you!) And I’d finalled. It was the first of a lot of crazy conversations that morning. Little did I know what a difference it would make. …
The next few months were kind of a blur of email loops (with other finalists), planning for Nationals, planning for a gown, joining RWA, meeting other finalists from years past, and learning that most people assume that if you final in the Golden Heart, you’ll sell within three years. Yowza!
But the biggest deal was the fact that agents were suddenly contacting me! Whaaaa?? After a couple of years of blindly sending my queries out – and nobody reading one word of my manuscript – I suddenly had emails and phone calls and my ms under the eyes of various industry agents, editors, published authors, and numerous fellow romance writers. My name was all over the blogs, RWA announcements, romance magazines, etc. I felt sort of shoved “out there.” But I needed to be out there! I needed to be meeting these agents and editors and industry professionals. So I was very grateful.
Next thing I knew, I was emailing agents, tweeting with them (!), talking to them on the phone, and even met one for coffee! It was so nice to finally get to talk to real live voices, and I connected with four who I really, really liked. And the best part was that they really, really seemed to like me! (Sally Field comes to mind here.) But what I mean to say is that they cared about my book, and they all said they liked my voice, and they seemed like they really wanted to make the book work. They had great ideas for what would make it work better, and I listened carefully to each one, and compared all the comments, and they were all kind of saying the same thing.
What it came down to was that “Earning Wings” had a strong voice, but the premise of the story was too common for a debut novel. For a debut single-title, you need to have an amazing hook. Readers are reluctant to plop down $7.99 for an author they’ve never heard of, but they’ll do it if the hook is amazing. (After that, they’ll buy you for your voice, or writing style, or your fabulous characters, but that first book needs to be all about story – a plot or premise they’ve never read before.) “Earning Wings” has a rancher (done before), an argument over a will (done before), and is a fish-out-of-water story with my LA heroine trying to run a ranch (done before).
More than one agent suggested that “Earning Wings” might be my second book. And that the one I’m working on now (“Making Waves” with Fin and Giselle) sounds like the debut book.
So all that’s to say I now have a new direction! And a new deadline to get Fin/Giselle done asap and on the desks of the agents who actually requested it!
And that’s why I’ve had my head buried in the sand lately. I’m writing any free moment I get – lunch hours, after work, after dinner. …
It’s an exciting time, to be sure.
A definite game-changer.
(And now I have to go and write another page!) (Wish me luck!)