In these days of instant self-gratification, I could have self-published or let my historical romances be published by one of the thousands of lurking epublishers. The terms were good: 40% of sales. The covers were abysmal. I’m a cover-girl, that is, one who judges publishers by their covers. So, with minimal faith in myself I waited, unsold, willing to remain that way unless I could sell to a good, established publisher.
Do other authors keep their rejection letters? I didn’t keep any for my contemporary romances, mainly because I didn’t have any intention of being the author of contemporary romances – after I had flunked with three of them. However, I kept the rejections for my historical romances.
In the past but never forgotten, I had a US agent. He sent my stories off helter skelter, peppering many and various US publishers with my words. Lovely man. As he was kind enough to forward my rejections to me, I kept them. The sad part is that I gave all my old manuscripts generically ghastly names like This Above All, All There Is, Daisy’s Way, Face Value, The Price of Pride, something else I can’t remember, and If Only. If only I knew which historical that was, or any of the others, for that matter, because I changed all the names years ago to the name of the heroine, so that I knew which was which.
When reading through my old rejections, I found a 1997 rejection from St Martin’s Press for If Only: I truly enjoyed reading this historical novel. The premise is engaging and the writing is superb. Ultimately, though, the feeling here is that a romance set in Australia would be too difficult to market and sell. Also, since the author lives in Australia, publicity and appearances would be unlikely. Our romance program is very much driven by local publicity and appearances by the author . . . etc.
That’s one of the nicer rejections, but most were in a similar vein for the next few years, which is why I gave up writing in 2004.
I’m an Australian, my stories are set in Australia, but none of the same novels that had rational marketing rejections from the US, were considered by Australian publishing houses. I could have tried England with changed settings but at that stage I could only see my stories set in their rightful place.
Then, in 2011, because the US RWA chapters were accepting competition entries via email and money via Paypal, I had an equal chance to have my writing presented to editors as final judges. First I had to make it to the finals, not so easy in my first few comps.
A judge in a Canadian competition told me she had to score Ella low because I set the story in Australia and seriously, who is interested in sheep? Sigh. Ella is no more about sheep than westerns are about goats. Other than her, most judges didn’t mind my Australian setting but some didn’t like my stories. Some didn’t like my writing. A judge kindly told me how to write because I clearly didn’t know. She changed my showing to telling and explained that the swing of a crinoline was a disembodied action, sympathising with me because I was clearly a newbie. That was a shame, because I had good scores from the two published judges I had been allotted and might have finalled in that comp but for her – but I had been a judge for years before I was an entrant and made some poor judgements too before I knew any better. Fair’s fair.
A rejection from Harlequin told me that I could write for them if I would consider less page time for my secondary stories and more exposition – which is head ‘splaining. But no, I couldn't consider those changes.
By the time I had finalled in enough comps to make the top three in the Divas’ awards, I had enough confidence to start submitting to editors without an agent. Because I had stopped reading romance long before, I had no idea which of the many publishers were which. So, judging books (publishers) by their covers I began submitting historicals to the ‘name’ publishers. Nothing. No one could take a risk on an Australian setting.
In the meantime, I reworked a contemporary suspense, Losing Patients, and reset it in the US, which was a major job because of the different hospital routines. I reset Starling in England in the Regency era after a request from an editor. Then, because Starling was so wrong in Regency, I changed the story back to Victorian. Then back to Australia where the story ought to be. The research to do those foreign exchanges was horrendous.
Then a chapter mate, Claire Baxter, sold a story to an Australian publisher, Random Romance. They wanted novellas. I’m not capable of writing a story shorter than 60,000 words but I gave Dr No Commitment a try anyway. Random Romance made an offer and published my 60,000 word novella. In the meantime I had rejected an offer for Losing Patients set in the US.
The rest is history. Random Romance took Losing Patients, which I set back in Australia, and Kensington made an offer for Starling, set in Australia. In the meantime I had two offers for Ella, both Australian, but I wanted my historicals with the same publisher if possible. Kensington offered for Ella and Charlotte too.
Am I glad I didn’t self-publish or give up on Australian settings? You betcha.