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—where they belong. I truly didn’t know what I was doing. After studying Dwight Swain and garnering the advice of great ladies like the late 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 Pam and I attended, 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. Forty-four 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.
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. Nearly twenty years later, I’m currently revising those books to bring them out as digital releases. I’m working on Heaven Can Wait right now. Interestingly, I ran across a review by a reader who had never read the story before and had some very insightful comments. What worked in 1993 doesn’t necessarily work today—and there’s more freedom in the creative aspect when a writer publishes a book independently. So Jakob and Lydia are getting new life and the villainess of the story? Well, she has a new and improved persona.
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. I’ll bet you remembered the way the first romances you ever read affected you on an emotional level, and you probably remember the stories today.
Which romances did you first read that have stayed with you forever?
Addendum to this blog post:
As soon as Kristin Burns saw this announcement come across Facebook, she went to her bookshelf and got books out to take this picture and send it to me. It’s foreign editions of these two books. Fun – thanks!
Written by 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/