For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a writer. I love everything about books. I love seeing the words on the pages, and even the type of font that’s used. I love hearing the distinctive crack of the spine when you open an older hard-cover book. I particularly love smelling the pages of an old book; the sweet, woody aroma brings me back to being at home as an introverted pre-teen and diving into a good book.
When I started pursuing my undergraduate degree at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, I decided to go for my passion. I made creative writing my major because if I wanted to be a published author, I wanted to make sure I understood the rules of writing fiction…especially before I broke them.
What I love about fiction as a reader is the way authors break from the norm and do what they want to tell a compelling story, almost like when a TV show breaks that “fourth wall” to engage the viewers. In school, teachers and professors repeatedly advised against “head hopping,” which means going from telling a story strictly from one character’s point of view to jumping into the head of another character in the same book. However, there are several well-known authors who do this regularly to the delight of their readers. As someone new to writing, I had to know how to structure a great story.
Once I earned my Bachelor’s degree, I still felt ill equipped to write and publish my fiction even though writing a work of fiction came a lot easier to me. So, I went further with my education and pursued a degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
The program taught me ways to strengthen my fiction as well as how to submit my work to publishers. The program allowed me to mix and mingle (and learn) with other aspiring and established authors (Harlequin romance author Susan Mallery attended the program as a student) as well as get to talk to industry professionals who either taught courses or came in as special guest lecturers. Not only did authors like Octavia Butler (may she rest in peace) come to speak to us students, but we also had established editors and agents talk to us about how to submit our work. What they don’t teach you, or maybe what I ignored during the lectures, was how much rejection you would get as an author, and what a rejection really means.
When I started submitting my work to agents, editors, and publishers, I did it with the lofty expectation that there would be a bidding war to get my work. I mean, I had all of this education behind me, and I had all of this passion for writing. As each rejection rolled in, some personalized (“Dear, Ms. Bright…”) and some in a form letter (“Dear, Author…”), it chipped away at my self-esteem. Imagine if your boyfriend or husband decided to end your relationship in a letter and it started off as “Dear, Wife…” instead of your name. Somehow having the letter addressed to me personally didn’t hurt as much because at least the person took the time to read what I had submitted and addressed me and did not treat me like the rest of the authors in their slush pile, the pile of submissions editors and agents rarely get through to review.
I had completed all of this education and had my work evaluated by my peers and professors, thinking that I would immediately get picked up, only to be told, “Thank you for submitting; however…” What I didn’t realize is that every rejection has nothing to do with me, my writing style, or my education.
The one lesson I learned after so many years of writing and being published is that a rejection, just like everything else in the publishing industry, is more about business than it is about personal preference. Yes, the work submitted still may not be the editor or agent’s cup of tea. If I’m submitting a straight romance to a publisher looking for paranormal, I can’t be too upset that my work got rejected. Or perhaps my writing style isn’t what they like. The point is my work may not have been rejected because my writing wasn’t up to par. Sometimes it has something to do with other work they have contracted that has a storyline that is close to yours.
The other thing I learned is that there are so many publishers out there, and as of late, there are so many ways to publish your work on your own. You aren’t limited to The Big Five as we romance authors used to think of the main large publishers of romance novels out of New York.
Although there are so many lessons I’ve learned in my writing journey, the bottom-line takeaway I wish to impart on other yet-to-be-published writers is to believe in yourself. Yes, I know that sounds trite and overused, but it’s true. You will question your every step in the process of writing and getting published. Trust yourself and your instincts. By trusting my instincts, I’ve managed to secure two multi-book contracts with Kensington Publishing (one of The Big Five publishers), and I’ve written books that make me proud. I wish the same for every writer out there.