Thursday, January 24, 2008

Writer's Wednesday :: Road to Publication with Michelle Douglas

A big Pink Heart Society welcome to the lovely Michelle Douglas, newbie Romance author whose road to publicaiton with Harlequin is a doozy! Read on ...

The Call... and everything that led up to it

I’ve been writing for about as long as I can remember and I’ve been a member of RWAustralia for over ten years – which must mean I’ve been writing romance for that long too. I’d love to say I was one of those ‘First Book Wonders’, but that is sadly not the case. Three years ago, with a lot of prodding and encouragement from my husband, I took a break from paid employment to write full-time and HIS CHRISTMAS ANGEL is my first full-time writing effort. But don’t let that fool you, I’d written in excess of ten romances by this stage.

Was I a slow learner? Perhaps. I also liked going off on tangents in my stories– gee, the heroine’s relationship with her alcoholic mother is really interesting, hmm what if... Lesson one: if you’re writing a romance make sure it IS a romance.

So, during the writing of HIS CHRISTMAS ANGEL, did everything fall into place, was it a light-bulb book, did it run as smooth as molasses and as rich as cream?

Ha! Again, I wish I could say yes. But the answer isn’t an emphatic no, either. I did feel that I’d finally nailed the conflict and the characters (at last!), and for what it’s worth my one piece of advice to aspiring writers is to finish the damn book. Then put it away. Hide it and forget about it.

I wrote HIS CHRISTMAS ANGEL, made it as good as I could, and then I shoved it in my bottom drawer and wrote a brand new romance. From scratch. Became totally enthralled in it. Made it as good as I could... then I shoved it in my bottom drawer. Are you seeing a pattern here? Believe me the distance gained by this process is invaluable (for me at least). When I pulled HCA back out I could pinpoint all kinds of flaws (big and little) that I couldn’t see before because I’d become too close to the manuscript.

So after another major edit, I sent the partial manuscript to Harlequin Mills & Boon in July 2005. And started oh-yet-another romance. Believe me, this process of getting engrossed in a new project is vital because the suspense of waiting for a response from harried, over-worked editors will either kill you or send you to the funny farm.

The full manuscript was requested in December 2005, and in May 2006 I received a letter that read: We felt you created a nice emotional read with likeable, empathetic characters. However there were elements that made this manuscript unsuitable for our publication. Based on the strength of your story and ability to create strong characters we would encourage you to revise this manuscript... Suggestions for revisions followed. This is one of the best rejection letters I’d received so far. I had received some encouraging feedback on previous submissions – but they’d all ended with we suggest you put this manuscript aside for the moment and start something new. I spent the next month working on the revisions before sending the manuscript back.

Note ten months have passed between my sending the partial and this letter. The road to publication is not an expressway. It’s not even a two-lane highway. It’s just one of those winding country roads that seem to lead to nowhere. But when you least expect it you suddenly find yourself confronted with the most beautiful vista.

On Australia Day 2007 – the 26th of January and seven months after sending in the revised manuscript – I received an email requesting further revisions. My heroine was acting out of character in one scene, but it was a pivotal scene. I made the revisions and sent them back in double-quick time. I received another email two weeks later requesting two minor changes. They were itty-bitty changes too and I had them finished in thirty minutes. (By the way, all of the suggested revisions were spot on and made the book much stronger. I have learnt an amazing amount through the revision process alone.)

Drum roll please.... One week later on 19th February (nineteen months after I’d sent the partial), at the relatively civilized hour of 11:30pm Australian time, the London office called and told me they wanted to buy my book... and did I have a pen-name I’d like to write under. Amazingly enough I didn’t scream. I just sat with this big, stupid grin on my face and only heard about every third word my editor said (she must’ve thought me a fruitcake).

Yes, the champagne flowed... and the red wine... and the white wine. And was the journey worth it? Absolutely. My other piece of advice to aspiring writers? Hang in there.

For more on Michelle be sure to check out her website and keep an eye out for
The Loner's Guarded Heart , her US April release.


  1. Great sale story, Michelle. And I love the title of your next release -- love a loner hero. You just know he's going to have a world of pain in his backstory and will need a very special love to overcome.

    Can I ask about the stories you wrote prior to your first selling ms -- have you revised and sold any since or were they your learn-the-craft tools?

  2. Great story, Michelle. I love hearing about people's call stories. Each one is so unique and exciting. Your call came just a week after mine! Great month :) And we're shelf buddies in April, too. Congratulations!!


  3. Wonderful call story, Michelle. Congratulations!

    And so glad you pulled His Christmas Angel out of the bottom drawer because I really enjoyed it.


  4. Hi Michelle! Great call story. I'm glad you hung in there because HCA was one of my favorites in 2007. And thanks for letting me know I'm not totally crazy to write the whole thing and shelve it, only to start another. I know I'll go back to the first but we need a bit of a separation to do justice to our relationship.

  5. Thanks, guys, I have to admit I love hearing call stories too - for so long they've been my ultimate fantasy.

    Bronwyn - I'm glad you like the title of my April book. I have to admit I think it sounds like a country and western song and whenever I say it out loud I want to break into a bluegrass twang (which, if you knew my voice, is not a good thing).

    Now in relation to those stories I wrote before I sold - 3 were rejected while I was waiting to hear about His Christmas Angel (2 of which I may salvage one day). The Loner's Guarded Heart sold (as I hope will the one I am currently doing revisions for) and both of these were started after HCA but before I recieved the call. I wrote two romances for a different line (in a fit of pique after a particular rejection letter). They both made it to the third round of the Emerald, but I haven't shown them to my editor yet. That leaves another three which I swear will never see the light of day. All of these books, though, have helped me become a better writer. (I hope that answers your question).

  6. Great call story. Gives me hope. Harlequin have had my full since January 2007 and despite being told I'd hear something in the next couple of weeks back last August, then again in December, I'm still waiting!

    It's agonising. But I'm so glad it worked out well for you. Congratulations.

  7. Michelle, great call story. And hats off to you for finishing all those stories before getting published. I managed only one before it's sequel got published but started loads of others and spent several years pissing about basically before I actually knuckled under. Consequently, once I got the call I was really in a pickle over book two because they didn't want the first ms and I didn't have anything else - or any usable ideas, which really put the pressure on.

    The thing is, as an aspiring author your whole focus is on getting published, but once you are you're in a much better place if your bottom draw is full instead of virtually empty.

  8. Michelle, what a lovely story! Thanks so much for sharing. You give the unpublished hope to keep trying.
    Can't wait for your USA release!
    Thanks for sharing,
    Carol Hutchens

  9. Michelle, smiling at your bluegrass twang. You did answer my question. As Heidi says, having those mss in your bottom drawer gave you a wonderful start for quick follow-up sales. I was like you Heidi. When I sold I had just one other ms in progress and needed new ideas, stat.