A Long and Bumpy Ride

It’s deadline time for me—and maybe for some of you, too.  My eyes are red and baggy.  My house is a maze of neglect.  My yard looks like a habitat for Sasquatch, and my grandchildren no longer recognize my voice (Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little).  But I’ll survive.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 30-year writing career its that the only thing worse than having a deadline is NOT having a deadline.I’ve learned a few other things, too.  Let me share them with you.

I started my first novel in the late 1970’s when my youngest started school.  It was a time of big, epic books, and I already knew what I wanted to write.  For years I’d been fascinated with the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and especially with the woman known as Malinche, who served as interpreter to Hernan Cortes.  I wanted to tell her story.  The research took me a year, the writing another 18 months.  A year later, to make a long story short, I sold MISTRESS OF THE MORNING STAR for more money than I’ve received for any book since.

 It gets better.  The same publisher bought my second book and signed me to write a series of family saga books about an English family in 1800s China.

 

 

I thought I had it made.

My first China book came out as a lead title.  By the time I finished the second, the market for epics had died and hot romance was in.  I was 100 pages into the third book when I got the news that my contract was cancelled and the publisher was closing up shop.

In the next two years the only thing I wrote was a ghost (literally) job for a writer who’d died in the middle of a male historical action adventure series.  I split the small advance for the remaining books with the man’s sweet widow.  The books were pretty raunchy for their time, but he was an excellent writer.  I had to imitate his style, and I learned a lot.  However, my writing career was at such a low ebb that I took a full time job, which turned out to be a good move—but that’s another story.

The week I started my job, my agent sold two proposals to a new publisher.  The first, an epic I’d started years earlier, barely made a splash.  But they loved, the second book—my very first western!  They loved it so much they asked me to write under a pseudonym so they could promote me as a new author.  They were grooming me to be one of their stars.

I thought I had it made.

The month CAPTURE THE WIND came out as a lead book, my publishers lost their financial backing and went into bankruptcy.  That book was everywhere.  But I didn’t even receive the last installment of the advance. 

For the next four years I sold nothing.  Those years, which I call my dark years, were filled with family tragedies and other difficulties as well.  I wrote proposal after proposal.  Nothing worked.  Until…my agent sold a western proposal to a brand new line, Harlequin Historicals.  I had found a home, and I’m still there.

Do I think I have it made?  Not on your life!   I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.  I’ve learned to roll with the punches and change with changing times.  Most of all I’ve learned to be happy and grateful writing stories I love and sharing them with my readers.

How about you?  How do you deal with setbacks?  Have you ever had to reinvent yourself?  What advice would you offer a young person? 

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I'm an internationally published romance author, coming up on 40 novels and novellas. Most of my stories have been Westerns for Harlequin Historicals, but I set stories in other times and places as well. I'll also be writing contemporary stories for Harlequin Desire, with the first release in January 2013. You can learn more on my web site.

32 thoughts on “A Long and Bumpy Ride”

  1. Wow, Elizabeth, what an interesting history you’ve had in publishing. That must’ve been so frustrating when 2 publishers closed shop. I’m really intrigued that you ghost wrote a male historical adventure novel! Maybe it’s one that I read! 🙂

    Glad you settled in at Harlequin Historicals!

    Advice that I’d give a person trying to break in? Don’t give up. Keep writing, even on days you don’t feel like it, because it just sharpens your skills. When you’re first starting out, don’t show your writing to too many people because it can really obliterate your confidence. Wait until you’ve written something solid. In this business, it’s all about the writing, and NOT AT ALL about who you know. (I think that’s the biggest fallacy about writing.)

  2. Thanks for the wise words, Kate. Very good advice.

    And I don’t tell anybody the name of the adventure series I ghost wrote. The hard part was starting in the middle of the book he was writing–taking up where he left off partway down the page…what a feeling!

  3. What an interesting account of your career, Elizabeth, and how fun to be a ghost LOL.

    I don’t deal with setbacks all that well. But if it’s a rejection, I cry and gnash my teeth for a day, then try to get over it.

  4. Hi, Elizabeth! I’m glad you persisted and are sharing your stories with all of us now 🙂 I tend to get frustrated easily with setbacks, but am inspired by stories of others who don’t let those stop them!

  5. Hi Elizabeth,

    I loved this very honest, from the heart post. I love hearing about what other authors have gone through, and yet are still in there doing well.

    Hope that deadlinle goes well. : )

  6. Crying and gnashing your teeth is fine, Tanya. Getting over it and going on the next day is the thing to do. You’re a pro!

    And I think we all get frustrated with setbacks, Fedora. Sometimes all we can do is take a new direction.

    And I know you’ve just gone through some trials on the personal front, Kay. It says a lot for you that you’ve kept writing through it all. Hugs.

  7. Hi Elizabeth,

    You’ve sure been through some hard times. Thanks for sharing. I’m going through one of those times right now. It’s been three years since I’ve had a new single title and I’m panicking. The finished single title that my agent has doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. My agent also has a proposal that hasn’t attracted any attention so far. Looks like the only thing I’m able to sell right now are stories for anthologies. Guess I can’t complain. Could be worse. But I know I can’t forge a career on anthologies.

    I’ve gone through some pretty dark times in the last three years though with personal things and that’s partly the reason. I simply lost my will.

    Kate gave some excellent advice though. It’s crucial to make yourself keep writing even on days when you don’t want to. I know things will turn around if I only persevere and keep plugging away. I’m determined to get back in the game.

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post! 🙂

  8. Elizabeth,
    I’ve been through the ‘folding’ of publishers, too. Although with epubs, that’s not always such a surprise. 🙁 Still, that doesn’t make it hurt any less. Everything (except a rewritten novella that’s under consideration right now) has been picked up by my current publisher, so I’m content…

    and trying to follow the write every day advice. Yep, it’s tough some days. I can honestly say keeping on track has helped me survive the past year’s ‘life issues’. I think, immodestly, that the writing’s pretty good, too. 🙂

    thanks for your post. it’s a boost to read of others’ trials and tribulations and SUCCESSES!

  9. Oh, Linda, I can just imagine what you’ve been through. You’re a wonderful writer and I know you’ll turn things around. You have so much to give.

    For what it’s worth, this past year I wrote an entire book, a time-travel western, that I hoped to sell as a single title. I loved it, my agent loved it, it’s been to every possible publisher and hasn’t sold. Onward and upward.

  10. Good morning, Elizabeth!

    Wonderful post. It’s inspiring to see you never gave up. Writing, for writers, is in our blood. We have to do it, preferably when we are paid for our efforts, but even if not. I was part of a line that closed too. It takes fortitude and stubbornness to keep going.

    My advice – If it’s your passion, go for it and let nothing stop you. Don’t worry about the odds, don’t let anyone tell you, you’ll never make it. Prove them wrong!

    Good luck with the deadline!

  11. Oh Linda – I just read your post and I have to think of the old addage, when one door closes, another opens. I hope that door opens for you soon! Your anthologies are wonderful. You’re a great talent. 🙂

  12. Congratulations, Lizzie on hanging in there. You’re living proof that it pays to just keep writing.

    And your post says it all, Charlene. We write because it’s our passion. I can’t imagine not writing. I’m sure you can’t either.

    Now back to work. 🙂

  13. We don’t call them set-backs, we call it “rolling
    with the punches.” And every one, every family
    has to continuously face these changes in our lives.
    From tiny things like a child forgetting his lunch
    money to a loss of a job to a family member finding
    she has a serious medical problem. We all roll with
    those punches and handle them to the best of our
    abilities.

    Pat Cochran

  14. Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your writing story. It’s so easy for us unpubbed writers to see someone’s name on a book and assume they’ve ‘got it made’ without knowing a thing about their lives. And no, although I have at least one your books, I’m not saying I’ve thought that about you, but I have about other best-selling authors.

    It’s like giving testimony in church – you see someone smiling all the time and you don’t know the dark path they travelled to get to that state.

    Since I’ve only been back at writing for 2 yrs, I haven’t had to re-invent myself and I can’t really offer any words of wisdom…

    …but IMHO, our best stories are ones that fill our minds until we get them down on paper. Just b/c there doesn’t seem to be a home for it at the moment, doesn’t mean there won’t be eventually. The trick is to have several ‘pans in the fire’ at all times…and not all our ‘eggs in one basket’… 🙂 …so that we don’t need to re-invent ourselves but can continue to write the story we feel compelled to get down.

  15. Thank you for your insight, Anita. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s not to compare myself to other writers and their successes. Even the superstars have had their struggles and earned the right to be where they are.

  16. Thanks, Elizabeth and Charlene. Your support means everything to me.

    I think almost every writer goes through periods between sales. Except for Nora! LOL She’s certainly an exception to the rule. We just have to keep on trying and never, ever give up.

    You’ve been an inspiration to me with your story and how your career evolved. I’m so glad you shared that today.

    Good luck with your deadline!! I know you’ll make it. 🙂

  17. Elizabeth, I loved hearing your story, though I’m sorry for the struggles. The good times seem all the better when we know the other side, don’t they? I don’t think I know a writer in this biz who hasn’t been through a dry spell.

    Thing is, I know a few who gave up during that time. But I know more who perservered. Those are the success stories that encourage us.

    I remember having Misress of the Morning Star in my book collection! I sure can’t tell you details, but I remember enjoying it. And I still have all of your early Harlequin Historials. You and Pat Tracy and Laurie Grant and Mary McBride were my idols.

    I still look up to you, not in awe so much like back then, but as a victorious person who knows how to push through the challenges and not let them get the best of you.

    Tell me, didn’t we first meet through Charlene Raddon?

  18. You, too, Linda, you are an incredibly talented and amazing person. I am so glad that I’ve gotten to know you, and I know you will sell more books! You know how to push through and win those victories!

  19. Thank you for the kind words, Cheryl. I can’t believe you read MISTRESS. I look up to you as an author who always comes through for her readers.
    We may have met through Charlene Raddon–she lives just a few minutes away from me and I see her fairly often. She’s a fabulous writer. If you ever come through SLC we should get together!

  20. Oh my, your story is so similar to so many authors!

    My own has been bumpy too….

    Rec’d contract for 5 short stories, ezine folded.

    First 2 ‘Tempered’ books E published, I self published the print copies and promoted/sold through Books A Million – they STOPPED taking books from authors, had to be warehoused thru AWBC!

    Got disgusted – signed contract for series with “new and upcoming publisher” – company NEVER got off the ground – tied up for 18 months!

    Took another yr to find ComStar Media, and yet another to get Tempered Hearts and Tempered Dreams reissued – company downsized but still in operation – book 3 in 2006 (as scheduled) but book 4 in 2008 (1yr later than expected!) but hey, IT’S HERE NOW! LOL!

    IMW, signed with another small press for debut single title novel, The Inheritance – published in record time.

    Have debut women’s fiction novel with yet another small press, Enspiren — we’ll see….

    Great post!

    Hang in there and keep up the good work!!
    Pamt

  21. Hugs on the bumpy ride, Pam. I’m right there with you. Sounds like you’re on you way–let’s cross our fingers.

    And a lot of successful writers really do have stories like ours–the bottom line is, believe in yourself and keep trying. Thanks for a great post.

  22. Elizabeth,

    Before you get away today, just wanted to tell
    how much I admire your tenacity in dealing with
    that “bumpy” road. My best wishes for much good
    luck are sent your way!!

    Pat Cochran

  23. Good morning again. Just waking up to smile at your late night comments.

    Thanks Pat, TherapyDoc and Mary.

    So that’s what those hunky scientists were pulling out of my shrubbery…..
    LOL Mary!

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