Friday, October 21, 2011

Amy's Journey to Publication

When folks ask me about how I got published and my journey, I cringe and wonder if there is anything I can add to the hundreds of stories written by all the other authors. Our stories are all the same: years of struggle, followed by a few crumbs of success. However, the aspects that may be of most help and interest to others are what the process taught the author. For me, that’s easy: I learned “to thine own self be true.”

That’s an odd thing for a writer to learn, because most writers have the opposite problem. They write what they want to write and discover (to their horror) that their finished tome doesn’t fit into any genre that a potential publisher feels comfortable publishing. So they can’t find their book a home. For many authors, it’s a question of marketability. Can the agent and publisher identify a hook for the books, a genre (so it can be shelved appropriately in the bookstore), or a market plan?

So many new authors write the book of their heart and then seek to publish it, forgetting that unless it can be marketed, it is difficult to find either a publisher or an audience.

I didn’t have that issue in my quest to be published, but I did have the problem of matching my “vision” with reality. You see, I thought I wanted to be a romance writer. I joined Romance Writers of America as a charter member and got some encouraging rejections from romance publishers during the ‘80’s, but I always sort of “missed the mark.”

Later, I discovered a wonderful group of friends also working on being authors and one by one, they signed with agents and got contracts. But somehow, I didn’t fit in. They tried to tell me that I wasn’t really writing romances, but darn it, I had it in my head that that’s what I wanted to be: a romance writer.

Now, a normal writer would have looked at what she actually read and considered that. But I was trying to be strictly business, and I knew that romance sold well. My friends were all writing romances. I didn’t know writers in any other genres. I’d even read one or two romances when I was a teen. I thought it was the way to go.

But it was not where my heart lay. I confused the light, romantic subplots of Agatha Christie books like “The Man in the Brown Suit” or Mary Stewart’s “My Brother Michael” for romances, ignoring that the main plot was the mystery while the romance was only a tenuous subplot. Even my friends noted that one of my favorite authors, Barbara Michaels, claimed “I’m not a romance writer.” I was stunned by that, since Michaels’ books were exactly the kind of book I most enjoyed. I considered them to be paranormal romances.

A brighter writer would have understood the facts sooner, but I’m nothing if not stubborn. I wrote several books that were mostly mystery with a slight romantic subplot and tried to market them to romance publishers and agents. It’s rather surprising that I got as much interest as I did. In fact, I signed with two agents.

In 2008, I sold my first book, a romance. But hard as I tried, I couldn’t for the life of me sell any additional manuscripts. “Strengthen the romance” was the most common remark. Eventually, it occurred to me that I read mostly mysteries, suspense, and science fiction. Sure, I read Georgette Heyer, but I didn’t like her straight romances. I preferred her mysteries. In fact, I was shocked when other folks said they liked those Heyer stories that I considered rather poor specimens. They were straight romances, as opposed to her mysteries or romantic adventures. Eventually, though, even I had to realize what was going on.

A-ha! I was a mystery writer!

As soon as I realized that and had the courage to step forward and write a mystery (with a romantic subplot, because how can you have a happy ending without a romance?) I found success. It’s almost like one of those addiction programs where you have to admit that “Yes, I’m a mystery writer” before you can be cured.

And this brings us back to my original point: “to thine own self be true.”

You can blithely ignore the markets and write what you want to write and not sell because your manuscript doesn’t fit into a marketable niche. Or you can try to squeeze yourself into a niche that doesn’t quite fit you and be miserable. And you might sell, depending upon how well you fit that genre. Ultimately though, you need to find the marketable niche that you can fit into and still be true to yourself.

You need to be happy writing, otherwise, what’s the point? So now I write mysteries, but there is always a romance involved. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like a happy ending unless a mystery is solved and love is discovered.

It sounds so easy, but the path is arduous and twisted at best. But for me, it’s all been worth it, because I still believe: Every good mystery has a touch of romance.