My Journey to Publication
My name is Maureen Smith, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be called an “award-winning, multi-published author.” I write women’s fiction and romantic suspense for Kensington, and contemporary romance for Harlequin.
At the risk of starting my tale with a cliché, my road to publication was paved with enough bumps and potholes to give me whiplash. And you know what? The road hasn’t exactly been gilded in gold since I received my first contract. As you’ve undoubtedly heard before, publishing is a tough business. The journey of a published author can be filled with enough ups and downs to drive even the sanest scribe crazy.
Ah, but I digress.
After graduating from college with a minor in creative writing, I took a long hiatus from writing to, you know, find myself. But after several years, I “found myself” right back where I’d started: dying to write. So that’s what I did. I wrote, wrote, and wrote some more. Dishes began piling in the sink, doing laundry became optional, my hubby grumbled about feeling neglected, and my toddler learned to entertain herself by gathering her toys and waging “water wars” in the bathroom sink. (Thankfully, she inherited an active imagination from me.)
Once I’d completed, revised, and polished my novel, I began researching publishers who might be interested in taking me from an unknown writer to the next Tami Hoag. Why not? I reasoned. I’d penned what I thought was a riveting romantic suspense thriller that was just waiting to be discovered and devoured by the masses.
But, um, none of my dream New York publishers came calling. In fact, one of them had the audacity to reject my work. Major bummer. But I didn’t give up. I kept polishing my manuscript and submitting partials to editors, and I began querying agents. I also started on another book (which is an absolute must if you’re serious about getting and remaining published. Don’t spend ten years working on the same story. No one wants to be a one-book wonder.)
I spent three years writing feverishly and submitting my first manuscript, hoping for a breakthrough. It finally came in the form of contract offers from two small presses. By then I had an agent who, unfortunately, lacked the experience to legitimately call himself an agent. So I parted ways with him and landed another agent, who wisely advised me not to accept either of the contracts I had been offered. Meanwhile, one of my targeted romance publishers had requested my full manuscript, only to somehow lose it. Twice.
Fed up with the waiting game, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I bid adieu to yet another agent and self-published my novel Ghosts of Fire. To help promote it, I entered contests, did book signings, conducted writing workshops, and attended conferences to network with editors and other authors. I sent out press kits with review copies of my book, which resulted in some feature articles and interviews. I was nominated for a Romantic Times Magazine Reviewers’ Choice Award, and Midwest Book Review praised me as a “writer of considerable promise and ability.”
And then something else happened.
While schmoozing with a romance editor at a conference, she told me that she’d heard great things about Ghosts of Fire. After she explained that her publisher was unlikely to acquire a previously published novel, she asked me whether I had written anything else. Remember that second book I had started working on while I was shopping Ghosts of Fire? That’s the manuscript I sent to the editor. Three months later, I received THE CALL from the publisher herself, who told me that I had a “great grasp of romantic suspense.”
Now—seven years, sixteen books, and five agents later—I feel very blessed to have achieved my dream of becoming a published author. I’ve never reached the New York Times bestseller list, and I may never be mentioned in the same breath as some of my favorite authors. But if someone had told me ten years ago that I would someday write for two New York publishing houses, and would be represented by the most fabulous agent, I might have questioned the person’s grasp of reality.
Anyway, I’m not sure what the moral of my story is. Something about the importance of believing in yourself, following your dreams, working hard, and never giving up—no matter the odds. Yeah…that sounds about right.
Now, to answer some of your great questions:
How did you find the agent you now work with?
Jessica Faust of BookEnds Literary Agency is highly regarded in the publishing industry, so “finding” her wasn’t difficult. After witnessing my “agent carousel” woes, a fellow author suggested to me that since I write romantic suspense, and Jessica successfully represents that genre, we might be a good fit. It turned out to be one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. Within a month and a half of me querying Jessica, she called to offer representation.
How did you react when you got “The Call”?
As you can imagine, I was ecstatic. I had queried a number of other agents, but Jessica was definitely my first choice. She’s very knowledgeable about writing and the publishing industry, she’s super accessible and proactive, she’s great at brainstorming, and she truly believes in me and my work. What more could I ask for?
How many rejection letters did you have to receive before one publisher said the magic word, “Yes”?
Honestly, I don’t remember. But even as a published author, I still receive rejections. Just remember that what may be wrong for one editor may be absolutely perfect for another. So even if you collect enough rejection letters to wallpaper your office, keep plugging away until you find that editor who falls in love with your story.
Have you ever written in another genre?
I’m very excited that my debut women’s fiction novel, Exposed, will be released by Kensington in February 2011. I’m writing under the pseudonym Naomi Chase.
When taken on by a publisher, does it mean that a writer loses control over their work and is not a part of the process such as cover and font choice? What has your experience been?
It’s absolutely true that when you sign a publishing contract, you relinquish a great deal of control over your work. Although you may have some input, publishers have the final say on cover art, fonts, etc. (Believe me, I’ve received some covers that made me roll my eyes and gnash my teeth. It’s the nature of the beast.) Regarding the content of your story, most editors work collaboratively with their authors to come up with the strongest book possible, because that’s the ultimate goal. I’ve never been asked to write anything that I strongly opposed.
What was the inspiration for your first book?
Ghosts of Fire was set in my hometown of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. I thought it would be interesting to explore how the community would react if the owner of a popular restaurant was accused of torching his own establishment in order to collect a huge insurance settlement. When I was interviewed by a local newspaper, the reporter told me that a similar case had actually happened in the town many years ago. Truth really is stranger than fiction!
You now have sixteen books and more on the way. Can you tell us, does it get easier or do you still have the same anxieties with the latest book that you had with the first?
I believe it’s important for writers to constantly challenge themselves to grow and improve their writing, no matter how many books they’ve sold or how many bestseller lists they’ve made. Yes, the process of writing books has gotten easier for me over the years, but I’m always nervous about the release of each new book, because you just never know how readers will respond.
Christi, thank you so much for inviting me to share my publishing journey with your blog readers. I hope all of you got something out of my story!
Hello again readers, it’s Christi.
Now that you’ve learned about Maureen and her writing journey, be sure to check out her new release, Whatever You Like.
Click here for Amazon’s page, which features reviews, an excerpt, and ordering information.
Click here for Barnes and Noble’s page, which features reviews, a synopsis, and a bio of Maureen.
And now, without further ado, I’m pleased to announce the winners of the contest!
The winner of Maureen’s book, Recipe for Temptation, is Florence Fois!
The winner of a one-page critique from Maureen is Karen Bennet!
(Winners please contact me for further details)