What a great answer yesterday–and so in-depth. Thanks for sharing a bit of your early years as a writer.
As you know, most writers would like to find the recipe that will guarantee a bestseller. With your recent Silhouette Special Edition release, MAN OF THE HOUR, you now have 42 books sold in less than fifteen years. Your books have made the Walden Books Bestsellers lists and the USA Today bestseller lists. That’s quite an accomplishment, but also quite a ride from those creative writing classes at Houston Community College. First, I’m sure people want to know: 42 books–what’s your secret? How do you do it? And how would you compare the early years of writing to your current times? Have things changed drastically for you as a writer? Has the publishing industry changed?
How do I do it? Well, first of all, I’m a very goal-oriented, determined person. I have also never let rejection stop me from continuing to try. I’ll share a story with you. After the sale of my first book to Silhouette, I was anxious to sell the second, but I didn’t have another whole book written that was any good. I had a great idea, though, and I wrote three chapters and a synopsis, and fired it off to my editor. I explained to her that I knew they wouldn’t buy a 2nd book on a proposal, but I wanted her to look my partial over and let me know what she thought before I went much farther. A month later she sent my partial back with a blistering letter (she was nothing if not blunt). She hated the book. Hated the hero. Hated the situation. Didn’t think it was salvagable. She also told me the writing was cliched. To say I was upset is putting it mildly. I was literally shaking after reading her letter. I was convinced I’d never sell them another book, that I’d be one of those one book wonders people talk about. But after a few days, I re-read my proposal and her letter and saw that she had valid points. I decided to put that partial aside and go back to it some other time. In the meantime, I would write a whole book before I would show her a word and that book would be so darned good, she would have to buy it! (That’s called the “I’ll show them!” approach) .
So that’s what I did. I wrote a book which became WHEN SOMEBODY LOVES YOU, still one of my all-time three favorite books. It wasn’t finished until January of 1991, almost a year after selling that first book to them. I sent it off with high hopes and positive thoughts. In March I went to New York City with the RWA Board of Directors (I was an officer on the board) for our spring board meeting. Before going I scheduled a visit to the Silhouette offices and lunch with my editor, Mary Clare Kerstan. I’ll never forget that day. I was hoping she’d read my book, of course, but she hadn’t said a word when we’d talked on the phone and made our plans to meet. So I got to the Silhouette offices and she showed me around, then we went into her office to talk before going to lunch. And here’s what she said: “Pat, when you said you were coming to New York, I knew I’d have to read your book so I could have some kind of answer for you when you got here, and I was dreading it. That other thing you sent me was so awful, and you’re so nice, I just hated the thought of having to tell you I couldn’t buy this one, either.” Can you imagine what I was feeling about then? I laugh now, but at the time, it wasn’t funny. My heart was going like a trip hammer. Then she went on to say, “But this book is wonderful. I absolutely loved it. And the prose! It’s just beautiful. We definitely want to buy it.”
So that’s my second book story. Writers talk about “second book syndrome” and believe me, it’s real. The second book is much, much harder to sell than that first one because the reality is, most writers take years to write that first book and to perfect and polish it. Then they have to come up with a second book quickly, and that’s hard, especially when you’re first starting out.
Actually, that sale was my fourth because I’d sold two novels written a few years before I wrote CINDERELLA GIRL and sold them to a new company called Meteor Publishing. They were published as my first two Kismet Romances under the pseudonym Ann Patrick. But WHEN SOMEBODY LOVES YOU was my 2nd sale to Silhouette, and probably the toughest I’ve ever made.
After that, the only secret to continuing to sell was my commitment to selling. I kept up with the market and trends and I wrote not only what I enjoyed but what I thought readers would like. When my sales went down a bit in 1994, I had a long talk with my editor about what I could do to improve them and we studied the books of mine that had done really well and found some common themes. Over the years I’ve realized that my most successful books have featured vulnerable heroines who already have a relationship with the hero. I don’t do “cute meets” well. One of my favorite books (and also one of my very best sellers) is about a woman who is the hero’s daughter’s piano teacher and secretly in love with him even before he becomes a widower. Another best seller features a woman whose husband dies while she’s pregnant, and whose boss offers to marry her and give her the security and protection she needs.
In answer to the question about whether things have changed, either for me personally as a writer or in the publishing industry as a whole, the answer is an emphatic YES. In some ways, writing is much harder for me now than it was in the beginning, probably because I expect more of myself and I’m more aware of how hard it is to stay viable in this business. And publishing itself has gone through an enormous change with the consolidation of so many publishing houses as well as distributors. Everything in publishing is about the bottom line. Of course, that’s true of all big business. You can write the most wonderful book in the world, but if the marketing people don’t know how to sell it or don’t think they CAN sell it, you’re cooked. And even if you do sell your book, if the publisher isn’t willing to get behind you and spend some money to promote it and you, you’re also cooked. My foray into single title publishing was extremely disappointing for me because after a successful first mainstream attempt that garnered me a RITA nomination and good sales, my publisher decreased my print runs on books two and three for them, which meant my sales went down accordingly.
Right now I’m in a period of great enthusiasm and excitement about my writing. During the past year, I wrote a three book series for Silhouette, and those books will be released in October, January, and March. I also sold a women’s fiction story (which I’m currently writing) to a new line at Silhouette and that book, called A THOUSAND GOODBYES, is scheduled for a September 2005 release. And I just agreed to a three-book contract which will launch a new, ongoing series for Silhouette called “Callie’s Corner Cafe.” Plus I’m also working on polishing a big mainstream book about sisters that my agent is really excited about. We have high hopes for that project.
In the end, the main ingredient (after hard work) to a long-term, successful writing career is flexibility. You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches and be ready to adapt yourself to changes in the marketplace. If you think your words are gold and you want to write what you want to write, regardless of market forces, then good luck to you. You’ll need it!
Oh, remember that book my first editor at Silhouette hated? After reworking, it eventually sold to Meteor Publishing.