Monday, May 15, 2006

How Did You Do It?

When people find out I'm a published author, they inevitably ask me one of two questions. How did you do it, or how do you do it?

Today I'll address the first.

The short version of how I got published is that I wrote a manuscript, submitted it, got rejected. Wrote another manuscript, submitted it, got rejected. Wrote a third manuscript, submitted it, sold it.

The long version is a little more complicated.

I'll start by explaining that I've always been a writer and a story teller. Much to my parents' dismay, I spent more time dreaming up stories than doing school work. My teachers thought I was either rebellious or lazy. I like to say I lacked motivation. I loved to read, and I read often. By the time I was fifteen, I'd decided I was going to be writer. I can remember starting my first novel when I was in high school. I never finished it, but I planned to. One day, there'd be a book with my name on it in the store. I just knew it.

Somehow that dream got waylaid during college. I majored in American Studies and elementary education, took a creative writing class, and was encouraged to seek publication. And I knew I would. Eventually.

It's strange how eventually can turn into never if we let it, how even our most passionate goals can be shoved to the side as life takes us by storm. I married Rodney, a great guy who shares my faith, taught, had my first child and my second and my third. In a span of three years I'd had three sons, all by c-section. I don't have to tell you what that does to a woman's body. After my third son's birth, I was in agony, so sick I could barely walk down the steps. Moving hurt, walking was almost impossible. I can remember sitting at the top of the steps, holding Seth and calling for my husband to come take him because I was afraid if I tried to make it down the stairs with him in my arms, we'd both fall.

Something happened during that time. Some would say I just had a change in perspective, that I suddenly realized my mortality and acted on it. I say God used that time of sickness to show me how short life is, to refocus my vision of the future, and to challenge me to offer more than I'd been giving. Either way, the next part of the story is the same.

I decided that I didn't want to die without ever finishing a novel, that I didn't want to be eighty years old, looking back on my life and wondering why I hadn't done what I'd always felt I should. When Seth was about a year old and life had settled into a routine, I started writing. A few pages a day, a few minutes when I could steal the time. Suddenly, I'd done it. Completed my first book. It was an awesome feeling. Even the eventual rejection made me happy. I wrote a second book. Got rejected again. This time, by Melissa Endlich, an editor at Harlequin Love Inspired. She was very kind and told me that she'd like to see something else of mine. I wrote my third book, found out I was pregnant, and ended up on bedrest. For fourteen weeks, I was confined to my bedroom, the doctor's office, or the hospital. I homeschooled my oldest son from bed.

I won't go into the gory details of that horrifying time. Suffice to say, my daughter's birth was a miracle, my survival during the surgery was due to a fantastic surgical team. Why bring it up? Because, once again, God used illness to change my perspective. When I was finally released from the hospital, I started revising my third book, determined to submit it. What happened next is something I almost can't describe. It was like a switch was turned on and light poured onto the pages. Suddenly, I understood everything I'd been doing wrong. Not only that, I was able to fix it.

I spent a month reworking the story. Then spent another few weeks studying books on how to query publishers. Finally, I was ready. I sent a one page query letter out in April. After a few months of not hearing, I figured Melissa hated the idea, and so I started a new one. Life went on, as it does, and I'd almost forgotten the query when I opened the mailbox and pulled out a skinny white envelope. The return address was Harlequin, and I was sure it was a rejection. I almost tore it up and threw it away, but finally decided I'd better read it just so I could tell my husband and sisters what it said. It was two sentences long. I read your query. I'd be interested in seeing the complete manuscript.

Eleven months later, Harlequin bought STILL WATERS.

That's my story. That's how I did it. Hard work, perseverance, determination. Grace. I didn't have a critique group when I wrote that book, didn't know any published authors, didn't know about writing conferences, workshops, or contests. Yet, here I am. Four books out. Four more contracted. Doing what I love and feeling blessed.

A person can't ask for more than that!

If you're writing inspirational romantic suspense and want a great support network, visit eharlquin's inspirational RS thread.


Sabrina L. Fox said...

Thanks for sharing, Shirlee. I'm not even published and anyone who hears about my writing says, "I'd like to write a book." It's amazing how many people "want" to write a book but never do.

Shirlee McCoy said...

Isn't that the truth? That's why just finishing is such a huge accomplishment. So, when are you sending me some stuff to look at? :0)

Malia Spencer said...

BTW I don't know if I ever told you but I loved Still Waters. I still have it somewhere in the book storage called my bedroom. I have way more books than clothes or shoes. Isn't that sad? I can part with anything easier than books. It's like giving up my kids to even weed out a few. Unfortunately I'm getting the threats that books will be tossed randomly so I guess that means I need to find a few more to give away. Don't worry yours is among the keepers. :)

Sabrina L. Fox said...

"Four books out. Four more contracted. Doing what I love and feeling blessed."

Wow, that's great, Shirlee. How long between release dates do you have? I mean when you have four contracted is that more pressure time wise or is it just a relief knowing you have that "job" security?

I'm reworking my third chapter right now. I decided to just send a proposal to Melissa and I want that 3rd chapter to have a better hook. If you're still up to it I'll send it to you this weekend.

I'd appreciate your opinion. And hi, Malia. Glad to see you made it over.

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Hi Shirlee,

It's amazing how similar your story is to mine about always wanting to write, difficult pregnancies, and getting back into writing. Of course I'm not pubbed yet, but hopefully getting close.

Thanks for sharing your story. It was encouraging to me.

PS--Sabrina told Malia and I about your blog. We were a mentor group turned crit group, so that's how we all know each other. :)

Shirlee McCoy said...

Thanks, Malia. :0)

Sabrina, it's nice to know my next four books are contracted, but does add a bit of pressure. I've got the first done and it'll be out in February. The second is a WIP, and due July 26. It'll be out in July of next year. I'm waiting to hear on my proposal for the third, and your guess about number four is as good as mine. LOL

Jennifer, you'll be where I am soon!

Hey, now we all know each other! How fun is that?