Thursday, November 09, 2006

Writers' Wednesday with Annie West

This Wednesday we bring you Annie West's story of her road to publication as a brand new Harlequin Presents author...


Annie grew up wanting to be an archaeologist or a national parks ranger or a bookseller, so of course she became a public servant. In the meantime she travelled and read books. Now she enjoys fantasising about wonderful men and their love lives. Oh yes, and she writes about them too.


Can I call myself a new writer? I FEEL like a new writer. There’s so much I don’t know about the publishing processes, even about writing blogs! I’m nervous that my next manuscript won’t be good enough. I go to writers’ events and am in awe of so many authors and wonder if someone has made a mistake, including me in the group. I’m thrilled by the sight of my book cover and recently when I received my first (complimentary) reader feedback on my first Modern Romance release, I was over the moon. I can’t wait to stand in a store beside my book and reach out to pick it up. Yes, I’m definitely a new writer.

But it’s taken me a long time to become one of the newbies on the Harlequin Mills and Boon shelves. That overnight success (literally – I woke up one morning to the news that changed my life) came after 10 years of writing and dreaming.

I discovered romance books in my teens. At the time I was discovering Georgette Heyer, Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart at the library, I found the rose cover on a stack of category romances in my best friend’s house. Her mother read them voraciously and soon I did too. I loved the fantasy element, the exotic far-away locations, the fact that the heroine got exactly what she wanted and (yes, of course) the wonderful heroes. What did it matter if the guys at school were spotty, immature or dull when there were Spanish aristocrats, sexy Italians and other fascinating heroes just waiting to steal a girl’s breath away?

Through school (English classics and romances) and university (Homer and romances) and work (parliamentary reports and romances) there was a common thread. I love a happy ending. I read a wide range of books but that always includes romance. Inevitably I wanted to write them. As my first attempt at a book, when I was around thirteen, was an Amazon adventure distinguished by its improbable plot and small readership, I didn’t have much of a track record. But romance writers are optimists.

I joined Romance Writers of Australia – one of the best things I’ve ever done. That put me in touch with other writers and provided a valuable source of know-how, inspiration and great friends. My first manuscript was over length, full of problems and immensely fun to write. Inevitably it was rejected but I learned so much from writing it.

Over the next several years I wrote contemporary category stories, but not for my favourite line: Modern/Sexy/Presents. I loved them but – what? Me write them? No way could I do it half as well as the authors I read. And my heroes – I was sure they weren’t alpha enough. My skills improved and I received positive feedback from editors but my stories didn’t quite hit the target. I was asked if I’d tried writing for Presents instead. It was about then I almost gave up writing - I was convinced I didn’t have what it takes to write such stories. But life without writing wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. For a start - what excuse would I have to go to those fabulous writers’ conferences?

One weekend I went to an all day writers’ workshop. It was fabulous and I felt the buzz of excitement as romance writers shared their enthusiasm. In the afternoon Miranda Lee and Emma Darcy spoke and inspiration hit. By the time I left I had an idea for a story.

I recall vividly sitting to write ‘A Mistress for the Taking’. It was like coming home. The words flowed and I knew I was in my zone for the first time ever. I felt the story in my bones. Though you know what ‘home’ is like – lots of housework – or polishing! I entered it in a contest and even got a placing for the first kiss but to my disappointment there was no request for the manuscript. I sent it anyway – straight to the slush pile.

I was immersed in another story when Tessa Shapcott requested the full manuscript. I sent it and tried to repress those effervescent hopes – I’d had full books rejected before. A month later I received an email asking for revisions. At the end of November 2005 I sent a revised story. Of course I knew that busy editors don’t read whole manuscripts overnight and contact breathless authors the next day. But that didn’t stop me hoping. I avoided using the phone, in case there was an overseas call coming through. The days dragged and after a sudden rush of long distance phone calls by thoughtless friends who hadn’t realised I was waiting to hear from the UK, I realised that I should be looking at the letter box instead, because that’s where the rejection would arrive.

I still remember December 8th – waking up and not following my usual routine of heading to the computer to check my emails and write. Why bother? There’d be no news. Finally I checked the mail. There was a message from Richmond. It was long so I started skimming ... thanks for the revisions ... (no ‘but’ yet) ... they worked well ... (where was the ‘but’?). I looked for the inevitable ‘but’ and couldn’t find one. I read it twice before I realised that the editor really meant it when she said she wanted to buy the book. It must have taken me five minutes for the news to seep in, despite the fact that the attachment was called something like ‘Mistress for the Taking acceptance doc’.

To my amazement I didn’t squeal with delight – the children were still asleep. Instead I dragged my husband over to read the news. He was just as excited as I was. After all, he’s lived with my writing obsession for years. The next days were a haze, punctuated by sudden bursts of glorious delight – ‘hey, they want MY book’! It’s a good thing I spoke to my editor after the news had sunk in a little – or I wouldn’t have made any sense at all.

That first acceptance was everything I’d dreamed it would be – and far more. Now I’m learning what it means to be a working author. Wish me luck!

Annie’s first book ‘A Mistress for the Taking’ is on sale in the UK now, then in Australia/New Zealand in December and North America in January.

She’s had 3 other books accepted, the next one being ‘The Greek’s Convenient Mistress’ (a January 2007 UK release).

You can visit her website at


  1. Fantastic call story! I wish I'd heard the news by email - how wonderful to have something to keep and smile at when the words just don't flow. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story Annie. It never fails to inspire me when I hear about the journey from aspiring writer to published author - I get goosebumps each and every time!

    Congratulations and MEGA best wishes.

    Sue :-)

  3. What a wonderful call story!
    And I agree with Natasha -- at least when the crows of doubt hit -- did the editor Really call -- you had the email to prove it happened!

  4. Natasha and Michelle - how did you know I kept going back to that email and rereading it? I thought that was my little secret! That first morning I must have read it dozens of times. Nothing beats a chat with your editor, but I do (still) like being able to go back and enjoy good news all over again.

    Sue - thanks very much for your good wishes.


  5. How wonderful! Just a fabulous call story! Well done!

  6. Oh, I just read your book this afternoon and I loved it. I tried to send you an email via your site but I am a Luddite!!! What a great story!!!

  7. Annie, your first book is brilliant. I can't wait for your next one. I LOVE your characters - they're so alive. And your call story is great!

  8. A fantastic post, Annie, and I was with you every step of the way with the amazing feelings of getting that call!!! Enjoy every moment of your first book on the shelves and best of luck with all the books to come.

    I think we might be shelfmates with our first books in Australia and NZ next month!!!

    Best wishes,

  9. Mags - what fun to be on the shelves together next month! And Fiona Lowe's next book will be out then too. I suspect I'm going to enjoy December.

    Thanks so much, girls, for the great feedback on Mistress!


  10. I got my acceptance by email too! When the kids were asleep and HubbaBubba was in the shower! I emailed Tanya at eHQ before I told him because he was taking SO LONG!

  11. Annie! Sorry to jump in so late, great, great story and congrats again!
    love, Abby Green

  12. Annie,
    I've heard that story a few times but that doesn't dent it one bit. I got all teary reading it again!! SOOOO looking forward to reading your book...I peeked into the first chapter last night and had to TEAR myself away from it and turn out the light. I am going to save it for a 'read in one day' the moment my current WIP is handed in cos I think once I start, there will be no putting it down.

  13. Can't wait to read your first book, Annie :)

  14. Oooh, next month it's here???? Woohoo! I'll be linin' up at Borders I tell ya!

    So glad you kept those early emails too. I read back over mine every now and then and get the same buzz!


  15. Annie, your story gives me goosebumps -- and I know how it just makes your brain buzz and you can't believe it. I can hardly wait to read your book. Congrats!

  16. Thanks, everyone, for the flood of good wishes.

    I'm just back from a day out collecting my critique partner from the train and coming back to find your mails is a terrific treat. It's so nice to share with people who understand!