Behind the Books: My First Sales

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I had been writing and submitting for several years before I joined an RWA chapter and a local writers group. With the help of other more experienced writers, workshops and conferences, I learned and grew. Those first early projects are still in boxes in a storeroom. I truly didn’t know what I was doing. After studying Dwight Swain and garnering the advice of great ladies like Diane Wicker Davis (Avon) and Barbara Andrews (Ecstasy – and Silhouette as Jennifer Drew with her daughter Pam Hanson) and also being with a critique group, the first book I wrote start to finish was Rain Shadow.

At a Minneapolis conference, after spending the entire morning in the bathroom doing self-talk, I pitched the book at my first editor appointment. The editor asked to see it and later rejected it saying my hero was too unsympathetic.

I had submitted to agents about that same time, and one called me, saying with certainty, “I can sell this book for you.” I was thrilled, of course, and she did indeed sell it to Harlequin Historical. Thirty-some books later she is still my agent. After some initial quibbling over my title, it stuck and RAIN SHADOW was released in 1993. Back then HH did what they called March Madness and introduced two new authors each March. I loved the cover, loved it loved it. Loved the Wild West Show on the front. Adored her fringe jacket. Blew up the image and admired it. The art department used the pictures I’d sent them, and even her gun is in perfect detail.

Question from shopper at one of my very first book signings: “Is this you on the cover?”

Note to self: At all times be prepared to answer very odd questions graciously.

My second sale followed right on the heels of the first because it was a book I’d written previously. It had been shopped around other publishers without success. My new editor, who continued to be my editor for the next ten years, agreed to look at HEAVEN CAN WAIT, then asked me to cut a hundred pages and take out a subplot. Which I did with a lot of help from my critique group. It’s difficult to be that brutal to your own work. The story was indeed better for that revision. So the books came out one after the other, but not in the correct chronological order, story-wise. The villainess in Heaven Can Wait is the dead wife of the hero in Rain Shadow. So whenever I talk to people who will be reading them for the first time, I suggest they read them in the correct order.

And here’s something I’ve never mentioned before. The subplot I cut from Heaven Can Wait was the thread of Franz and Annette trying to have a baby. Over the years I’ve thought a few times about giving them their own story thus completing tales of the three brothers, but I’d have to go out of chronological order again, and for some reason that bugs me. Besides they were too happy together and supportive of each other…what would be the conflict? Wait, the story could be chronologically correct if it happened years after the last and their marriage had fallen apart because of their inability to conceive. Hmm, sounds like a lot of angst — wonder if I could handle that. <g> (I thrive on writing angst! Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em FEEL is my goal!)

So there you have the inside scoop on my first two sales and how they came about. It’s still exciting to see a new cover for each current release. It’s always a thrill to know that the stories I’ve worked so hard on are bringing pleasure to readers. As readers ourselves, writers know the delight of finding a new author, of becoming lost in a story, of falling in love with appealing characters. Being able to write those stories for others is a joy and a satisfaction beyond measure.

What we remember when we think back on a story isn’t always the specific details of the plot or even the character names. What we remember is how the book made us feel. If we were swept away, excited, intrigued, riveted, saddened, we recall those feelings. In an earlier blog, when I asked about the first romances you read and loved and you listed so many great ones, I’ll bet you remembered the way those stories affected you on an emotional level.

Which stories won places on your keeper shelf by involving your emotions?

Cheryl St.John
Land of Dreams for Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/awe75qd
Colorado Courtship (Winter of Dreams) Anthology LIH 1/13
Visit me on the web: http://www.cherylstjohn.net/
From the Heart: http://cherylstjohn.blogspot.com/
Updated: September 12, 2007 — 8:19 am

22 Comments

  1. I would have to go to my shelf to look, Cheryl. Alas, I have a book to write, and that would be what is known as “avoidance.” But what beautiful covers and what beautiful stories! Thanks for the inspiring post.
    Elizabeth

  2. Cheryl, It was so enjoyable to read about Rain Shadow and Heaven Can Wait’s history since they are on my keeper shelf with the rest of your books. I would love to read Franz and Annette’s story. It is never too late!
    Ruthann

  3. Cheryl,
    Love those beautiful covers on your first two books. It’s wonderful when you send artwork in and they actually use it for your cover. And your first book is like your first “baby”. You remember most everything about it.

    For my second historical, Chase Wheeler’s Woman, I remember saying to my editor, John DeSalvo would be the perfect hero on the cover. I was stunned and amazed when I “got” him on the cover as a half-breed. (DeSalvo had taken over the helm from Fabio)
    The most memorable westerns I’ve read were from Sandra Brown. I’m terrible recalling titles, but it was about a heroine giving birth alone on a trail and a cowboy who comes upon her and helps her. It was a very moving story with strong conflicts. Then of course, just about everything Linda Lael Miller writes – an auto buy for me. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Elizabeth!
    Ruthann, I love hearing that those books are on your keeper shelf. That’s what it’s all about for me.
    Char, I’ve never read a Sandra Brown western. I think my experiences must be lacking! I discovered her when she was Erin St.Claire — were those Desires or Intimate Moments? — but I don’t think I even knew about westerns. If you think of that title, please let me know.

  5. Cheryl, I’ve got Rain Shadow on my keeper shelf along with several others of yours.
    I read widely and books fall into my hands because I write a book review column for my local paper but other than that, I’m one of those that read almost exclusively by author.
    My collection of keepers is bigger than this because some books just strike me, regardless of author. I think my favorite book of all time is the middle novella–Mathmakers–in an anthology called The Invitation by Jude Deveraux. Just a very strange, hilareous book about 80 pages long that reads like Jude was under deadline, stoked on caffeine and mad at the world. There is no work in this book that should be skimmed.
    Julie Garwood
    Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    Jennifer Crusie
    Linda Howard
    Elizabeth Lowell
    Suzanne Brockman
    I’m forgetting some.
    If they’re sassing each other and falling in love while they’re running for their lives, then I’m happy.

  6. Jude’s book is MATCH MAKERS, 🙂 not Mathmakers. Sorry. That would be a book about two teacher falling in love, I suppose.

  7. I’m sorry to say that I missed reading your first two books. Sounds like I need to prowl the used bookstores. I do have your Mistaken Widow and that’s a great story. One of the first romance books that really made me feel was “The Flame and the Flower” by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I still remember the emotions she wrung from those characters. Her books have a permanent place on my keeper shelf along with Lorraine Heath’s “Always to Remember.” But then, Jodi Thomas’s “To Tame a Texan’s Heart” and “The Tender Texan” are right there keeping them company. Oh shoot, I can’t pick one! It’s impossible. I guess that’s why God invented bigger bookshelves. 🙂

  8. Great post! I haven’t read those yet. I think my first book by you was The Mistaken Widow.

    Most of Julie Garwood’s books ended up on my bookshelf by involving my emotions as did Jodi Thomas’s books. Linda Lael Miller’s and Geralyn Dawson’s also earned places on my bookshelf for this reason. Catherine Anderson’s Annie’s Song is another keeper that touched me. All of these books are my comfort reads and have been re-read several times. Brenda Novak’s Dead series is the latest to touch me and earn keeper status because of how it made me feel. And Ruby Storm’s Keeper series…a wonderful historical series that I HIGHLY recommend…touching stories and characters that stick with you.

    I have often told people that to me a great book is one that makes me feel something…whether it is anger, sadness, humor, joy, etc. When I pick up a book I want to be touched as well as entertained. Those are the books I remember the most.

  9. Cher – I had to look it up. Seems Sandra Brown wrote under a lot of different names, but I think the Western Romance I’m talking about is Sunset Embrace with Bantam, 1985, then released with Warner again in 1990’s.

  10. Hmmmm. I’m on vacation so my keeper shelf is at home not in my memory bank LOL but I love all of Linda Lael’s books and Charlene, yours too. One that I recall tugging every heartstring I have and then some is not a Western, but Luanne Rice’s Cloud Nine. It’s not a typical romance as the ending, sigh, is not all that happy, but I never forgot it…and Kay, I just bought RedHawk, looking way forward to it. Cheryl, your blog is great and your books inspire me as well.

  11. And I remember helping you plot and critique Rain Shadow and Heaven Can Wait!!

    You’ve come a long way, baby. Come to think of it, so have I!

  12. I’m proud to be on your keeper shelf, Mary.

    Oh, yes, Always to Remember is on my keeper shelf, too, Linda.

    Yes, yes, Jennifer! Annie’s Song was a heart-ripper. I loved that book.

    Thanks, Char, I will look for Sunset Embrace.

    Hi Tanya! Thanks for the kind words!

  13. Those were the good old days, right, Pam?

  14. Hi Cheryl & all; I was blessed the day I prowled a thrift store & gleaned my first gem of yours- orange “autographed copy” label caught my eye & loved the “Annie Oakley” fringe. Then found HCW with gold round “Autograph copy” seal and was thrilled to discover Cheryl was an LOCAL area writer! However, didn’t correspond with you til I gave a spare copy to my small town’s new/used bookseller, he contacted you for a booksigning & we met one fateful day in Nov, 05; several months later I accepted your invitation to blog with you & your fans, now it’s my #1 bookmarked site and I’m addicted to love, CSJ style!!
    Mary, I have your list in keeper boxes, as are Char’s LL Miller & S Brown, among others mentioned(Cheryl rates the antique lawyer’s bookcase!! along with Victoria Alexander, another Omaha author); good to get more recommends to search for.
    If you love L Rice’s Cloud Nine, don’t miss Barbara Delinsky’s the Three Wishes (her VERY best); Danielle Steele’s the Gift may also appeal(felt it was written about my hometown of Grinnell, IA). Two favorite Christian authors are Susan Meissner and Roxanne Henke set in current day midwest. Read local author Mr Sean Doolittle
    and enjoyed his Rain Dogs because it was set in Nebraska Sandhills so had to put in the plug, even though it is more mystery thriller than romance. His first 2 won awards, think this will too.
    Jennifer, I’ll read my autographed copy of Brenda Novak next (courtesy of Cheryl, THANKS!) Also have 2 G Dawson’s and several C Anderson’s.

  15. Jesse DuFrayne, Luke Shardlow and Whip Moran…my three favorite heroes from my top-three Keeper books. I have many, many keepers from LaVyrle Spencer, LL Miller and Elizabeth Lowell. LaVyrle Spencer’s FORGIVING was the first romance novel I’d ever read–she can sure tug at the heartstrings–HUMMINGBIRD got me completely hooked on westerns 😉

  16. Fascinating blog, Cheryl! I love reading/hearing about you starting out 🙂

  17. Cheryl, Your books are the best I still remember the first ones and I was hooked right away because of all the feelings I had from reading them. When I start one I don’t put it down until I am done. I love them. I only wished you could write faster. LOL

    I love this Western Blog it is great and there are some authors here I didn’t know about and some like Pam that I have meant before at a book signing.

  18. All of your books are on my shelves Cheryl. Almost all are autographed which really makes them special. Just found a copy of Christmas Gold so have added that to my list. Waiting patiently(?)for the next book!

  19. I have Rain Shadow!!! I loved it and I’ve loved all your books since then.
    If we’re talking Westerns that touched my heart then for me the brightest of a very bright genre is Outlaw Hearts by Rosanne Bittner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that one and it ‘gets’ me every time.

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  21. Hi…Man i just love your blog, keep the cool posts comin..holy Sunday

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