Day 3: The Journey of My Red-Hot Romance Novel

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
— Dr. Robert Schuller

So today was another manuscript-submission day. I sent my novel Highland Games to a publisher that does not require an agent: Avon Romance.

Here’s what the novel is about:

Highland Games is about a workaholic woman who is doctor-ordered to take a relaxing vacation where she meets an ever-so-sexy local constable who interferes with her pursuit of boredom.

Here’s the story behind this novel:

Back in December of 2006 I got laid off from the last full-time office job I ever had (The Hollywood Reporter—and I even made the Variety because of it!). Between trying to figure out my next step, doing what work I could find to make the severance package last, and moving to another country (Canada) and back again, I discovered that romance novels were a nice distraction from the throat-gripping terror I was feeling.

Specifically, I was reading Harlequin Blaze novels, an imprint which is contemporary, red-hot, and the sex scenes are realistically described. In other words, no use of ridiculously outdated metaphors for genitalia. Her “flower”? Please. Unless they’re in a vase, flowers have no place in a modern romance.

Anyway, despite the fun I was having reading these novels, I would say half of them made me want to throw the book at the wall in frustration. Like when a female character barely engaged in missionary style sex on a bed with the lights out says that she hadn’t realized she could be so naughty. <insert eye-roll> “I could write a better story than these pathetic excuses for red-hot romance!” I shouted.

And so I did. And I called it Highland Games because in Scotland, where this book takes place, highland games are what they call athletic, dancing, or bagpipe-playing events that are held in the Scottish Highlands (or by Scots in general). And the heroine and hero of my story indulge in a game of sexual wits in the Scottish Highlands. Without bagpipes, I hasten to add.

I submitted it to Harlequin where it was rejected—based on, I’m fairly certain, a less than stellar query letter. I don’t think they even got to the manuscript. I then submitted it to a small romance publishing house called Still Moments Publishing, where it was accepted. A fantastic editor, Amy, took a pass at my novel and we had so much fun during the back and forth process. I enjoyed her sassy comments on the manuscript as much as her spot-on edits! I was involved in the cover art process, too, and then just weeks before the publishing date, I got an email that SMP was being acquired by a bigger publisher, The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

The WRP publisher emailed me to welcome me and let me know that my novel would go through the process all over again, from edits to new cover art. It was an emotional decision, but I wrote back to turn down the offer because this was a digital-only publisher. In other words, no print books, just e-books.

I’ve had this conversation with many people, a good portion of whom would have chosen differently than I did, but I could never be happy publishing my books in digital format only. What am I going to display on my bookshelf? What am I going to send to my 90-year-old grandmother? How am I going to give my mom a signed copy of my first published novel?

So after I grieved that loss—and make no mistake, as much as I knew in my head that this is all part of the publishing game, it still hit me like a ton of bricks right in the heart—I sent it to Harlequin again. By this time there was a new editor, and she wrote back saying that she loved my novel and was forwarding it on to the Blaze acquisitions team. When she got back to me again, it was to say that the acquisitions team loved it, had some feedback, and with the revisions would consider it (no guarantees, of course) for publication. I made the revisions, had my old pal Amy take a look at it, and then sent it back. The final email I got was: we don’t feel it’s right for the Blaze imprint. This process, by the way, the back and forth between me and the Blaze editor, took one year. I could have been halfway through a Master’s Degree program in that time. Or gone around the world in eighty days 4.5 times.

So when I got the biggest rejection of my career so far (all previous rejections were like a random guy at the bar rejecting you; this one was like a husband handing you the divorce papers), I really got depressed. Again, I tried to talk myself out of the sadness and grief and anger and frustration and chocolate cake binges, but a good friend reminded me that no matter what my head told me, no matter what I knew to be “the business, the process of publishing,” it was okay to also have a deep, natural, human emotional reaction. And hoo-boy, did I ever!

And now, seven years after writing this damn thing and being slapped around like a silver ball in a pinball machine being played by a deaf, dumb, and blind kid, I just sent it out again this morning.

I'm beginning to think that I am delusional. Not that I would want to be any other way.