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.