Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Introducing...Mary Sullivan!!

Incredibly exciting times here in Drunk Writer Land. One of our critique group members FINALLY GOT THE CALL!!

Many of you out there know Mary as Mary Bray. I'm going to let her tell her incredible story from start to finish and I hope you all find her perseverance as inspiring as I do. Take it away Mary:

I was originally going to post this on my own web page, but, well, I don’t have one yet, and I can’t hold in my excitement.

My wonderful critique partner, Molly, graciously invited me here to tell my story about receiving The Call last week, so here I am. Woooooooooohooooooooooooo!!!

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, I’m ready to answer Molly’s questions.

MOLLY: Tell us the story about getting the call.

ME: I was home when my agent, Pamela Hopkins, called. She told me that Wanda Ottewell, at Harlequin Superromance, wanted to buy my novel, WHITE STETSONS. It was my 2005 Golden Heart finaling entry called, at that time, SHELTERING ARMS. I can honestly say that I wasn’t very articulate for the first few minutes of the phone call. My thoughts sounded something like, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.” Serious chills and goose bumps. To a certain extent, I’m still in shock.

I had this really weird thought after I hung up. I thought, “Well, I guess that was inevitable.” After some analysis, I realized that, in other words, as long as I had continued to grow as a writer and didn’t give up, I was going to obtain my goal to get published.

Never, at any point, up until The Call, did I believe it was inevitable, though. I had all of the doubts of any writer. I had those moments when I wondered why I was stilling banging my head against that publishing wall.

The Call became more real when Wanda phoned to talk about the book and expectations Harlequin would have of me. Wanda was warm, gracious, and so intelligent. I guess I was most relieved when she mentioned that any revisions that needed to be done on WHITE STETSONS would be minor. She stressed ‘minor’. Thank heavens.

My revision story along the journey to publication has been a novel in itself with this particular manuscript.

It started just before I found out the novel had finaled in the Golden Heart. I had sent the manuscript to an editor at Superromance (not Wanda) who had asked for revisions. I did those revisions, but the editor still didn’t want it.

At that point, Pam agreed to be my agent. We decided that we could target American Romance, because the setting was already so strong. I just had to change it from Alberta to just across the border in Montana. I had created a fictitious town, and northern Montana doesn’t differ too much from southern Alberta in topography in the one area I used.

American Romance is a slightly shorter line. I cut out scenes, researched Montana and then increased the sense of place even more, made sure it was seamless and then sent it to Pam.

She, in turn, sent it to Wanda, who edits some of Pam’s authors who write for American Romance. Pam has a good relationship with Wanda. So, even though Wanda edited for Superromance, she did agree to take a look at the manuscript in its American Romance incarnation.

She sent back a four-page revision letter and agreed to take another look at it. I agreed to do those revisions because they made sense to me, but also because I think Wanda has a really solid understanding of story.

Then, Wanda became the Senior Editor of Superromance, which was wonderful for her, but not so great for me, because she would no longer have the time to look at an author who was writing American Romance. I really didn’t want to start over with another editor, though, and had really wanted to be published in Superromance. As well, I wanted to work with Wanda.

Pam went back to Wanda asking whether she would take another look at the manuscript if I now rewrote it as a Superromance. Wanda agreed. So...yet another set of revisions to do, which were a lot more work than just sending out the old copy of the manuscript. In the four years since I had started to write this novel, I had learned a lot about writing. It is my belief that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, you never stop learning as a writer.

I rewrote older scenes that were no longer as good as newer scenes. I used all of Wanda’s wonderful suggestions. In a book I already considered to be emotional, I had to write with even more emotion. Superromance was about to take a slightly different direction and Wanda told Pam that it is all about romance. Romance, romance, romance.

So, I beefed up the romance. I think it was because of this that I didn’t lose the spark in the book after so many revisions. I had to find new ways to showcase the romance between my hero and heroine and, in doing so, came to fall in love with my characters again.

Wanda loved the revisions, Pam got The Call, and then passed it along to me.

I know there were people who thought I should have thrown in the towel and moved on to another book, but there were a couple of reasons why I didn’t give up on WHITE STETSONS. First, my agent liked the story and believed it could sell. Second, I loved the story. No matter how many times I rewrote it, even when I feared I was so immersed I could no longer ‘see’ the story, I still loved my characters and the basic premise.

My hero, Hank, is even more ‘Hank’ than when I started the book four years ago.

Besides, I did continue to work on other novels.

I have strong opinions about those revisions I made .

I have learned that there is a time to stick to my guns, and a time to listen to others.

If only a handful of people were ‘getting’ what I was trying to say, maybe it was time to change what I was saying, or the way I was saying it.

Agreeing to revisions that made sense was taking responsibility for selling my own work. So, if the reader/editor/agent couldn’t see what I wanted them to see, how could I change the writing to make them see the story I saw?

Changing the manuscript to target American Romance was a strategic career move on my part. Changing it back to Superromance, with the editor’s permission, was also a career ploy. Using the editor’s requested revisions was just plain smart writing and resulted in a better book in the end. However, there was never a guarantee that she would like it or buy it. I will admit that, if she hadn’t, there was nowhere else for WHITE STETSONS to go. It is most definitely a category novel.

I should stress here that, since Superromance had already rejected it as a Super, it really shouldn’t have gone to another editor to be considered for Super. This only happened because Wanda first saw it as an American Romance and then, circumstances changed. I got lucky...and I have a good agent.

I was a basket case while waiting for Wanda’s response. I’m so glad she bought it in the end.

MOLLY: How long have you been writing?

ME: Twelve years. I lost of couple of those to health and family issues. Life does seem to get in the way of the writing.

What was I doing all of those years? Either writing manuscripts, or doing research for those stories, or attending seminars, workshops or conferences, or writing short stories, or refining pitches and query letters, or entering contests, or reading excellent authors--always trying to improve my craft--and, once a week, working with a great critique group that includes Molly, Maureen and Sinead who you know here on their great blog. Also, Teresa, Michele and Jude, great writers and amazing critiquers.

Thank you, you lovely, smart, savvy ladies for all of your support!

MOLLY: Looking back on your journey to this point - what do you think are the most important things you’ve done to get here? What do you wish you’d done differently? If anything?

ME: Most important things I’ve done? Learned to write well and then continued to study writing and story, joined TRW, found a supportive critique group.

What do I wish I’d done differently? Joined TRW and met other writers a lot sooner than I did. Writing is such a solitary pursuit and the romance novel writing community is wonderfully supportive.


Flo Moyer said...

Mary, first, congratulations! Second, imo, you did exactly right in how you handled everything for this book. And third, thank you so much for posting your story--I found it very inspirational. You are a lesson in perseverance.

Alli said...

This is so inspirational! Well done, Mary. Enjoy the moment and bask in the glory - it is well deserved.

Leah Braemel said...

Congratulations, Mary! As Alli said, it's very inspirational. And it's that incentive the rest of us need to keep writing and submitting.

Anonymous said...

Twelve years, let's see ... first submission to Harlequin in 2005, second sub to Harle ... 2006, joined writing school 2006. In 2007, joined RWA, then TRW, flash fiction course 2007, and a whole heck of a lot more writing courses ... until July 2008 and now 2008 minus 2005, I think I have 9 more years to go, Mary!
Thank you for the inspiration.

Evelyn Marentette

Vicki said...

Congrats Mary! What a fantastic tale. Just goes to show how hard work WILL one day pay off (I hope...*crossing fingers*)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Mary, thanks for sharing your story. It gives us all hope, that's for sure.

We love those stories about "The Call".

Continued success!

Sue Mason

Anonymous said...

So now just one question, Mary....

Which side of the border did the story end up on?

Susan D said...

That last comment was NOT anonymous... Before I finished putting in my ID, it posted itself.

Susan D

Molly O'Keefe said...

Having watched Mary the last few years, write then rewrite, then rewrite, then rewrite, then rewrite, then rewrite then REWRITE - I can safely say that I've not seen anyone jump through more hoops on the way to the call.

Proves what I've always thought was one of the most important aspects of dealing with an editor -- do the rewrites. Mary? Do you agree?

msullivan said...

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words. I remember I used to get so discouraged when I read on different loops that so many people were selling. Then someone would mention how long they'd been writing and I would feel so much better. It always filled me with hope.

This is such a tough business that moves sooooo slowly that it is so easy to consider giving up. I'm so glad I didn't!

If I were to offer advice, I would say, keep honing your craft and sending your work out.


msullivan said...

Evelyn, my wish for you is that is takes less than half as long as it took me ;-)

msullivan said...

The story is staying in Montana.

msullivan said...

Molly, I really do believe that being WILLING to rewrite was half of why I will be published. That Harlequin LIKED the rewrites is the other half of the equation ;-)

My editor sent me a revision letter BEFORE any promises or guarantees of publication. I believe that she wanted to see how well I would take editorial direction and then how well I would bring those changes to fruition.

I considered it part of being a responsible writer. Revisions will always be a fair portion of a published author's work.

I want to stress that the editor's feedback was intelligent and made sense. In terms of just the writing, the book is much better. As I said, my hero, Hank, became more 'Hank'. The guy I loved writing about became more clear to me and grew into his character, but also, judging by my editor's response, to the reader.

Another reason I believe that doing revisions for the editor made sense is that she knows the marketplace. She understands what the reader is looking for in a good story. I want readers buying my books.

Does anyone else have any ideas about revisions?


Kimber Chin said...

Wow, simply, wow.
Mary this couldn't have happened to a better or more persistent person.
What an inspiration!

And great point about revisions.
I think being mature and professional enough to handle revisions with grace (as you did) is a must for career success.

The only reason I'm published is because I sucked up my ego and listened to people who knew more than me. I feel my novels are group efforts (grinning).

Looking forward to reading your novel, Mary!

Molly O'Keefe said...

Ha! Kimber! Good point - I think "roup effort" describes my books too!!

msullivan said...

Kim, it really is a matter of setting aside your ego, isn't it?

I'm so glad you were successful with YOUR journey to publication ;-)

BTW, I complained A LOT to my critique about how tired I was of revisions. That I am still a member of the group is a testament to their boundless patience!

Oh yeah, my novels are definitely group efforts, too.


Margaret Moore said...

Congratulations, Mary!

I also appreciate that you emphasized that the revision suggestions made sense to you -- you weren't just doing them to please somebody else's notion of what would work. And that you continued to be in love with your characters -- I'm sure that came across just as powerfully in your book as it did in this blog post, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that's something your editor picked up on and appreciated, too.

msullivan said...

Thank you, Margaret!

Oh yes, the revisions do have to make sense. I found that the suggestions that came from both editors at Harlequin were sound.

I also saw both of them, (all of the Harlequin editors, in fact) at Robert McKee's story seminar two years ago, so a pretty good indication that they study the craft, too.

We spend so much time on our stories that we are sometimes too close to them to see them clearly. An objective eye can help.

I've never been on the receiving end of revision suggestions that weren't sound, so I never had to face that particular problem.

I like how you characterized them as suggestions, a point I should have made earlier.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

Many congratulations on this great news.

Seems to me you treated all this like a business, and maintained your passion for your book. Nice blend.

Did I miss when it's coming out?

And finally, what an inspiring story.

Best wishes and many, many sales.


msullivan said...

Hi Susanne;

I completely forgot to ask when it's coming out!!!! Can you believe it????

My agent and editor will talk at the conference, I would think, so Pam might be able to tell me more when she gets home ;-)


Sinead M said...

As wonderful as Mary's first sale story is, the book is far, far better with an absolutely amazing hero.
can't wait to see it in print.

Annette said...

Congratulations, Mary! Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. :-)

vanessa jaye said...

Congratulations, Mary!!

msullivan said...

Sinead, your support means so much to me. Thank you.

Annette, thank you. Nova Scotia? You live in one of Canada's loveliest provinces. My daughter is on her way to NS on a bicycle. She started in Ottawa just this week. Make sure to order good weather for her down there, okay? ;-)

Vanessa, thank you!!!


Michele Ann Young said...

Mary, such a great call story and such a great book. I am so proud of you and can't wait to have White Stetsons on my bookshelf.

Keli Gwyn said...


Congrats! I saw your Call news on TGN loop when I got back from Nationals. I'm excited to hear that your GH ms sold.

The story of your journey to publication is amazing. I admire your perseverance and willingness to revise and revise and . . .. I think it's great that you saw your hero and your story grow stronger through the process.

And it's an inspiration to me to hear that another GH finalist's story is going to be on the shelves soon.

msullivan said...

Michele and Keli, thank you ;-)

Keli, you're a DOUBLE GH finalist this year! Congratulations! Nationals must have been exciting for you. The GH experience is wonderful. I'm so glad you had a chance to experience it.

I will watch the TGN loop for YOUR Call story when it comes and I have my fingers that it will be soon.


Amy Ruttan said...

Congrats Mary, very inspiring. :)

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