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.