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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guest Blogger: Judy Duarte

PUBLICATION: 9 Lessons for the Road
By Judy Duarte

I can’t remember when I first dreamed of writing a book, but the desire to create a story and have it published grew until it was impossible to ignore.

But since English was my least favorite subject in school, I didn’t know very much about crafting fiction. And to make matters worse, I had no idea where to start.

Lesson # 1: God doesn’t give a person a dream without also giving them opportunities and the power to make that dream come true.

In 1996, while scanning a class schedule for the UC Irvine Office of Extended Studies, I noticed a weekend course called “How to Write a Romance Novel.” I was in luck! I was going to learn everything I needed to know—in one single weekend!

Lesson # 2: There’s something to learn every day—and being published doesn’t change that.
Had I realized how little I knew about craft and how long my first sale would take, I might not have made that trip to Irvine that day. But when I climbed into my car, I was enthusiastic and hopeful.

At the class, I met other aspiring romance novelists. One woman was writing a paranormal time travel. I didn’t read or particularly like paranormals, but something drew me to her. She was the only one who seemed to share the same burning desire to make our dreams come true. So I volunteered to read her work if she would read mine.

Lesson # 3: When it comes to finding the right critique partner, it’s not a matter of searching for someone who lives nearby and has Thursday evenings free. It’s more important to find someone who shares the same dream and who’s willing to be your “teammate” in every sense of the word.

One of our classmates mentioned Romance Writers of America. And can you believe it? There was a chapter that met at a restaurant only 45 miles from my house!

After attending my first meeting, I was in awe. I went home that day and blocked out every second Saturday of the month on my calendar. There was now a wealth of knowledge and resources available to me, so I watched my pennies and attended every meeting, signed up for every conference I could afford, and learned all that I could.

Lesson # 4: Seize every opportunity to hone your craft and to network with other authors.

Several months later, I finished my first manuscript and went to the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference, hoping to meet an editor who would buy my book. I knew it was just a matter of time before a publisher snatched up my masterpiece.

And the conference paid off! A New York editor asked for a proposal! I hurried home, printed out my pages, and mailed it to her. Once I knew the package had arrived in New York, I waited for the telephone to ring—and I jumped each time it did. Before long, I began to wonder if she’d ever call.

Lesson # 5: The journey will probably take longer than you think, so try to use the time wisely.

Instead of placing “the call,” the editor returned my manuscript and said, “I wasn’t taken with the writing.”

Lesson # 6: Expect to get discouraged at times—it’s part of the trip.

I polished that story and sent it out again. This time, while I waited, I started writing a second book and continued to hone my craft.

Lesson # 7: Just because God placed the dream to be published on your heart doesn’t mean He won’t require a great deal of work on your part.

One of my critique partners sold her first book, then her second. I was thrilled for her. We were a team, remember? And I wanted it as badly for her as I did for me. I was even more determined to follow in her footsteps.

When my second critique partner sold, I was thrilled for her as well. Never once did I feel jealous. But as the two of them continued to sell, seeds of doubt began to grow. Was my work as good as they insisted it was? Would I ever get the call?

Lesson # 8: As Gary Provost said: You need three things for success…talent, good luck, and persistence. If you have persistence, you only need one of the other two.
Four manuscripts, a scrapbook full of rejections, fifteen conferences and a hundred RWA meetings later, the rejection letters became more and more promising, the contest scores closer to the top. Then on May 7, 2001, while on vicodin and pumped full of an antibiotic because of a pending root canal, I got “the call.” Silhouette Special Edition wanted to buy my first book.

More than thirty-five sales later, the desire to write and sell is still strong, the wait on word from my editor about a proposal is still nerve wracking, and the call with an offer is still nearly as exciting as the first.

But can I let you in on a secret? I’m convinced that there are a lot of unpublished authors in the world who have more talent and skill than I do, but for one reason or another they became discouraged and quit writing.

Lesson # 9: Never quit dreaming, never quit trying, never quit honing your craft. Dreams come true—but not if you give up.

Judy Duarte has written over 35 novels, won the Readers Choice Award, and been a finalist for RWA's RITA award. You can find out more about Judy and her latest books here.


  1. Judy, Thank you so much for blogging for us today and for these encouraging life lessons. You are the voice of experience and an inspiration to all of us.

  2. Judy,

    Your words came at exactly the right moment for me today! Thank you so much for posting your journey. I'd add only one thing - taking inspiration from friends and colleagues who share their knowledge and experience.

  3. Judy, what a wonderful post -- thanks for sharing. It does seem like there is so much waiting and hoping and wishing, and then the good stuff happens out of the blue, when we're involved with something else (such as getting ready for a root canal!)

    You've given me a nice boost of inspiration today. Thanks for that!

  4. Judy,

    Thank you so much for being our guest. Your lessons hit close to home. I love your take on the rejections becoming more promising and contest scores higher. What a great attitude.

    And it really does make a difference to surround yourself with critique partners dedicated to each others' growth and success. :)

  5. Judy,

    Great post. I feel just like you did. I've never been jealous when others published, just very glad for them. You see, I want to be recognized for my writing so it's easy to be glad for others' writing successes. But, yes, doubts can grow regarding "my" abilities. Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. Clarissa,

    Thanks for inviting me to blog today. I'm glad to be here. :)

    I'm sorry for popping in late. I'm the president of my local RWA chapter (San Diego) and had a meeting today. But I"ll be around all weekend!

  7. Liz,

    Good idea! We need a cheerleader in our corners sometimes, especially one who writes and understand the dream and the reality of it. :)

  8. Donna,

    You're so right about all the waiting and hoping. And it really does seem as though the good things happen when you least expect them.

    Just keep writing. :)

  9. Samantha,

    I used to keep a scrapbook with my rejection letters. Sometimes people look at them as the worst thing that can happen. And I'll admit they can hurt and be horribly disappointing.

    But in truth, it's hard to know how to fix something or improve if you don't know why it's not working as written. :)

  10. Alia,

    You're so right.

    I cheer each success of my critique partners. Because I try to give them the best critique possible, I realize that I've contributed to their success. So it's easy to cheer their accomplishments. I've been a part of them.

    It also helps to know that they're celebrating my successes, too. :)

  11. I love this. The stuff about persistence is so right ... now I'm just hoping it works for me! Congrats on your success! :D

  12. Michelle,

    It's going to work for you. :)

    Just remember that it's a journey. No one can say how long yours will take. But don't give up. What if you were to quit just one step or one submission or one revision too soon?

    You can do it. :)

    And thanks for the congratulations on my success. Keep in mind that it happened after 5 years and 4 completed manuscripts. :)

  13. Judy, I related so much to your post that I felt I wrote it! I too have three wildly talented CP's, all agented, two signed with major publishers, and the third is on her way... and I'm the donkey in the race, hee-hawing and bringing up the rear. Their successes are a thrill, I'm their biggest pom-pom girl.

    But self-doubt can paralyze me... I wonder if I have what it takes... and hoo-boy, rejection stings. But, strangely, as I get closer, the rejections don't hurt as much, the contest judges who are snarky don't bother me... I'm actually scanning comments to find value in all feedback instead of interpreting it as "Epic Fail," (as my sons would say).

    This is a tough, competitive business and none of us can feel 'entitled' to it, we've got to work hard for it.

    I especially loved your post after reading how others seem to "effortlessly" attain success a month after they start writing.

    Me, I'm out in the field with Scarlett, clasping turnips and muttering, "I'll never be rejected again!" (heh heh -- and I know I will!)

    Great blog, and thank you for sharing this. REALLY helped me a lot.

    Clarissa, your posts are always spectacular (wink, wink)

  14. Judy,

    What an amazing and uplifting post. I related to it in so many ways. Thanks for sharing.