Welcome to the My First Sale series. Each Monday, Dear Author posts the first sale letter of bestselling authors, debut authors, and authors in between. Helen Brenna writes contemporary romances for Harlequin. I’ve been enjoying her Mirabelle Island stories from Harlequin Superromance with the first three books in that series released back to back to back. The most recent, Then Comes Baby, should be in stores now.
Let’s just say the exultant cry was no doubt heard for miles when I got The Call in March of 2006.
It all started close to twenty years ago. I’d decided to quit a stressful accounting position to stay home for a little while with my-’then-’one year old daughter. One afternoon, I sat down to finish a LaVyrle Spencer historical romance. I remember closing the book and, contented smile firmly in place, thinking, "I could do that."
Right. LaVyrle made it seem so easy.
I set out in my typical over-achieving, perfectionistic manner to tackle this craft of writing and get published. I knew nothing. And I mean nothing.
My first readers, mostly family, were patience and kind, which gave me the courage to join my first critique group. They weren’t so Minnesota nice. But they taught me so much. I was an eager student, swallowing my pride and absorbing every tidbit of wisdom any reader, published author, agent, or editor bothered to offer. I worked and learned, went to conferences and entered contests and got deservedly sucky scores.
When I finalled in the Golden Heart contest for the first time in 1994, I thought this is it. A month later, the day I came home from the hospital with my second child, I got my first agent. The sale seemed inevitable.
Only no publisher would touch that book. Who knew that setting a romance in the Middle East killed a story (back then) from an editor’s perspective?
The let down was terrible. I’m not a quitter, but the Golden Heart is it, baby. If you can’t sell after that, what’s the point? I cried. I got angry. I couldn’t write. I was paralyzed, scared to death of putting tremendous effort into something that would once again go nowhere. Fear is my worst enemy. I quit writing for five years.
Over time, creative urges sabotaged me. I loved writing. Maybe a more marketable setting was the ticket. I tried to tell myself that I didn’t care if I got published. (Yeah, right. I’m the seventh of eight children. I crave attention.)
I wrote my next book for fun, something that excited me. It didn’t do great in contests. It didn’t sell. It didn’t get me an agent. But I’d enjoyed the process, so I wrote another book. Lo and behold it finalled in the Golden Heart, along with a previous book. I was a double finalist. This was it. I had three agents offering me representation. Three! But I’d been in nearly this exact position ten years earlier. I knew what might not happen.
Sure enough, during the course of the next year, my worst fears were realized. In one of the most agonizingly slow processes know to womankind, one editor after another turned my book down. Fear threatened to knock the legs out from under me again.
My agent stuck with me, bless her heart. Editors loved my writing despite not being able to buy my book, so she encouraged me to rework a previous story. I was skeptical, but I followed through. In fact, I rewrote that darned manuscript three times for three different editors. Finally, I got it right.
Ten years of fairly serious writing, four completed manuscripts, three Golden Heart finals, a Maggie win, too many regional contest finals to count, three critique groups, two agents, and one study group later, I finally became a published author.
The icing on the cake? My first book, TREASURE, was a double finalist in Romance Writers of America’s RITA contest. It was up for Best First Book (the only series romance amidst a group of well-deserving single title romances) and won the RITA for Best Series Romantic Suspense.
TREASURE hit the shelves in February of 2007 and I’m currently writing my tenth book for Harlequin. As frustrating as my journey was, it was the journey I needed. I’m not sure I could have written my Mirabelle Island Superromance series without the bumps and bruises I earned along the way.
If you’re reading this, you’re likely on your own publishing journey. Stay true. The Call is just the beginning. This is a crazy business, isn’t it?
THEN COMES BABY, the third in my Mirabelle Island series will be on bookshelves December 8 and the first two in the series are still available for order.