I’m sitting down to write this blog, minutes after getting confirmation that the first print copies of my first book are on their way to me. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so it’s a fitting time to reflect on the journey from inspiration to publication. It hasn’t been dull.
I’ve written all my life, poetry, lyrics and short stories, but I’d never considered attempting a novel. Too long, too daunting. Then, in September of 2006, the hero of McShannon’s Chance simply materialized, fully formed, in my imagination. Tall, a bit on the lean side, dark hair and molasses-colored eyes. Cajun mother, British father. A Georgia boy who turned traitor and fought for the Union in the Civil War. I suppose all the Westerns I read growing up had been perking away in my subconscious, because I knew instantly who Trey McShannon was and what drove him.
I was on a camping trip at the time, and couldn’t find anything to write on but paper towel. I grabbed three sheets and a pencil and started writing. I still have those sheets tucked away. Six months later, I came up for air with the first draft of a novel on my hands. By that time I knew I wanted to be published, but I was full of all the usual quaking doubts and fears. Everyone else on earth wants to be published, too. Might as well buy a lottery ticket and hope to win the jackpot.
I hadn’t set out to write a romance. I’d sworn off romance novels in the eighties because I found the heroes arrogant and annoying. I wasn’t even sure that what I’d written fit the genre, though it was a love story. I’d never heard of Romance Writers of America and hadn’t belonged to a writing group for nearly twenty years. Awash in ignorance, I did a little research and decided to submit my MS to a small e-publisher, thinking that even if they rejected me, they’d be more likely to give me feedback than a large publisher or an agent. Then I settled down to wait.
They got back to me the next day, asking for the full manuscript. They said that, with some changes, they would publish. I couldn’t believe it. My first book, on the first try. Overnight.
I shouldn’t have believed it. This was followed by a year of false starts, long waits with no contact, and finally the disappointment of having the company fold while my book was in edits. A year during which I had joined an online forum, Writing.com, got critiqued by some wonderfully helpful and supportive writers, and lost some of my naiveté. A year I needed badly.
With a much stronger manuscript in hand, I submitted to a couple of large publishers and received rejections. I felt like giving up, but I hadn’t forgotten the thrill of that first acceptance. I still believed in my story, so I sent it to another small e-pub, one that had published authors I knew online. This time, my novel was released in e-book form.
For three weeks, until the company folded.
At this point, I didn’t have much naiveté left. I’d joined RWA and learned a bit about publishing. In spite of my disappointment, I knew I was lucky to have gotten the rights to my book back from both companies. I also knew that, given the present turmoil in the publishing industry, and given that Westerns aren’t currently fashionable, my book could spend a lot of years looking for a home with a traditional publisher. I took a couple of months to consider my options, then submitted to a third e-pub, Bluewood Publishing, the owners of which I knew as authors. Which brings me to the boxes of books I’m eagerly awaiting.
Is there a moral in all this? Several, I suppose. I’ve learned that the publishing industry today is full of risk, wherever you turn, with large companies and small. I’ve learned that I have to write what’s in me to write, whether it’s a hot commodity in today’s marketplace or not. I’ve learned to measure success by pride in a job well done, by growth in my craft and by the friends I’ve made.
Oh, and I read romance now.
McShannon's Chance by Jennie Marsland is available from Bluewood Publishing and Amazon.com. Visit Jennie at her website where you can read an excerpt and find out what else she's working on, including some photos of her wonderful paintings.