Another question I get asked: How did you get published?
It’s difficult to break into the fiction market. Almost everybody I’ve ever met wants to write a book. Not everyone does it, of course, but there are enough who do to create a very crowded and competitive marketplace. As a result, getting published—and getting published well; there is a difference--has a lot to do with building credibility and setting yourself apart from the pack. Because I was “just” a housewife and mother of five, who didn’t even have a college degree (I left a full academic scholarship at Brigham Young University to marry and start my family), I knew I needed to do something to give the editors in New York a reason to pull my manuscript out of the slush pile. I did that by entering writing contests.
Thankfully, I placed in 90% of the contests I entered, including the Golden Heart, a national contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Once I had a nice long list, I felt as if I had some of credentials I could put in my query letter that might get me some attention.
I didn’t want to approach editors without an agent, however. Editors use agents as a sifting device, and I wanted to avail myself of every possible advantage. So I started by querying agents. I received several form-letter rejections, as well as some less formal and more encouraging responses. Then an agent named Pamela Ahearn from Louisiana (who is still an agent, by the way) wrote to tell me that she liked what she’d seen of my work. She asked me to send her the rest of the manuscript--and a few months later offered to represent me.
It took Pam almost a year to sell OF NOBLE BIRTH. I was rejected by St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Avon Books, Bantam and probably a couple of others I can no longer remember. But then HarperCollins called to offer me a contract. It was August 26, 1998 when I got THE CALL, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about anything (except maybe hitting The New York Times list on June 16, 2008, almost ten years later). My editor was Robin Stamm, a young but eager junior editor working with Laura Cifelli, and I loved her.
Fortunately, HarperCollins liked the title of my book well enough to let me keep it. They gave me a beautiful cover and a release date of November 1999, and I thought I was all set for my new career in publishing. But before my book could ever be shipped, HarperCollins merged with Avon and let all their romance editors go. This meant that I was “orphaned.”
My career could’ve ended right there. I was a fledgling writer, my first book still in production, and I had no advocate at the house. Robin had already read my next two manuscripts, which were historical romances like OF NOBLE BIRTH, and liked them. Before leaving on vacation, she told me that we’d go to contract when she returned, but she was fired right afterward so the contracts never materialized. Being so new and untried, I wasn’t particularly high on the list of authors HarperCollins was eager to retain--so they cut me loose, as well.
It was a setback that could’ve been devastating, except for one thing. I’d gone to a small regional conference in Park City, Utah just a few months before, where I’d met an editor from Harlequin by the name of Paula Eykelhof. Although I’d never dreamed I’d write a contemporary romance, I decided to pitch a story idea to her simply because I had the opportunity.
I look back on that day now and wonder what possessed me to do such a thing when I was so sure I had my historical career on track, but I’m definitely glad I did. I liked Paula so well, I went home and wrote a proposal to submit to her—a proposal she eventually bought. EXPECTATIONS came out in February 2000. We’ve done 36 books together since then, including the Department 6 trilogy coming out this summer—WHITE HEAT, BODY HEAT and KILLER HEAT. And I hope we have the opportunity to do at least 36 more.