I have not been writing since I could hold a crayon like other authors often say. Throughout school and college, I wrote my essays well enough that teachers would comment that I wrote well, but I didn’t write stories, only occasionally had an idea or dream I thought might make a good one. So I kept a box of ideas that I might write if I ever decided to, but I really wasn’t compelled to do so.
When my oldest child was around a year old, I was a stay-at-home mom and I felt my brain atrophying washing diapers and playing patty-cake all day long with nothing more academically rigorous to do than teach my girl her ABCs. There is such a thing as being able to read too much. I needed something active to do with my brain, and I recalled that box of ideas. I sifted through them and looked for a story idea that would easily “write itself.”
I chose a story about two of my former high school students that were boyfriend and girlfriend that I just could not imagine why the two of them were together, and so I’d decided to write a romance to explain it. But as I stared at that open word document, I knew that I didn’t know enough on how to even start without spending hours of wasted time, so I googled “how to write a book.” Nothing was helpful for me to think I could do this until I came along Randy Ingarmanson’s Snowflake Method. That thought process clicked, and so I began writing up my snowflake. For the next few months, I wrote about a chapter a month, waiting for inspiration to hit on how to proceed with my snowflake outline.
Then I decided to look up a local writers group which gave me a reason to have a chapter done each month to read to the ladies. Though the only criticism I got there was that I used too many adjectives. Being a rough draft, I knew I couldn’t be that good, so when a small conference in a nearby town had a keynote speaker that wrote in the genre that I really wanted to write in one day (since that’s what I read most), I signed up to go.
After ten months of writing and armed with ten chapters, I went. Though it wasn’t the official theme, the conference message for me was, “it’s almost impossible to get published.” And well, when you challenge me like that, I’m going to “do it.” So I went home and finished the book in a month and a half, but I knew I needed help from others who were really intent on getting published and I decided to join a professional organization. I chose ACFW, and got into their critique group loop looking for a small group of critiquers. I started out in a Young Adult group since a Young Adult romance was what I’d just finished writing. I learned a whole lot of storytelling craft. I’d read books on it and went to classes before, but having people point out where I was doing things wrong and giving suggestions on how to fix it was so much more worthwhile than attempting to learn it myself. I also learned that my voice was more Nicholas Sparks than true Young Adult.
Once I got halfway through the book with this group, I realized I had learned so much that I needed to start over to make that book better but I didn’t have a bunch of young adult books in my head so I didn’t want to work on changing my voice for a genre I wasn’t going to write a lot of. However, I had tons of ideas for historical Christian romances since that is my reading genre of choice, and so I abandoned the Young Adult romance and started ‘Whichever Bride Stays’ (Later to be renamed as A Bride for Keeps). My voice was much more natural for this (probably from years and years of reading it ) and I worked on that one with the group.
Once I had that one done, I revised it again and started another, I had two books written when I started putting the opening chapters of ‘Whichever Bride Stays’ into ACFWs contests and state RWA uppublished contests that took Inspirationals. It did all right, not terrible, not finaling. I revised again and kept working on the next book and wrote up a third quickly since I was expecting a second child.
I put all three of those opening chapters into the Genesis that next year and the newer two both semi-finaled with high scores, but ‘Whichever Bride Stays’ had two high scores and one low ball score of a 61. When I was thanking my anonymous judges, I realized that the judge who gave me a 61 had also given me a 99 on another. When I mentioned that in my thank you, she came out of anonymity (and she was a favorite author of mine!) to basically say, ‘well then, you can fix that 61 scored story if you can write that 99 one.’
So for 8 months, I thought about what I could do to rewrite that book a 4th time to impress that author. When I figured it out, I rewrote and put it back into contests, it still made decent high scores and finaled in several, but the other two were getting more praise from judges and I’d basically decided to shelve ‘Whichever Bride Stays,’ because, though it seemed competent, no one seemed to like it more than whatever else they were receiving.
I sent my next book to one of my critique partner’s agent when she recommended it to her and I’d basically decided if I had my pick of agents, I’d pick her. She took a month to decide, but ultimately said she liked a lot of what I was doing, but she had too many questions in regards to my synopsis and passed and said she’d be willing to look at something else. Other than that, I’d not been sending out queries to anybody, just working the contest system and getting requests from conference agent appointments, which though they’d asked for whole manuscripts, they’d never responded after I sent them.
While I had the other two in a whole slew of contests as I began to revise that third one and write the next one, I saw a contest on Seekerville that I’d finaled in before with one of the other two books with an editor from my dream publisher (Bethany) as judge. But I’d just decided I was done with contests that year and would try with my next book, next year. But the contest was low on Inspirationals, the coordinator said. So I sighed and clicked on it wondering what the prize was and whether I wanted to put another one in when the two I normally would be putting in were in other contests and so I didn’t have the judges’ feedback from them which I always used to spruce the entry up before sending it out again. The prize was a certificate for the finalists to enter the next year’s contest…..wait! I figured I must have one of those since I’d finaled last year, and I did…..The contest entry deadline was in a few hours. If I didn’t enter something, I’d waste my certificate since it was only good for the following year. So, despite just recently deciding to permanently shelve ‘Whichever Bride Stays,’ it wasn’t competing anywhere and was the most polished, so I put it in right before the buzzer.
The other two finaled in their contests and one judge who’d seen a particular entry in a different contest I’d entered came out of anonymity to tell me I wrote well enough to get published, but that I should really try to do it with another book since this particular book had a theme she couldn’t imagine as something a publisher would want to pick up from a new author. And then, I finaled with Whichever Bride Stays and it won and the editor asked to see the manuscript. I asked her if I could have a week or two to see if I could snag an agent, because I wanted an agent that believed in my writing, not lured by a publishing contract if I were to get one.
I’d narrowed all the agents down to six that I thought I’d like to have. Three passed, three said they’d take a look at it (including the agent that had talked to me before) but as soon as she said yes, I didn’t wait for the others since she was my top choice and very happily, I signed on with her because I would have just sent in the single manuscript to Bethany whereas she made me come up with a series proposal (duh!). And in a whirlwind, I had a novella and three novel series sold to my dream publisher!