My first experience of reading romance was when I discovered the Sweet Dreams line in my teens. I absolutely loved it and I reread ‘The Popularity Plan’ by Rosemary Vernon until it fell to bits. As I got older I moved on to reading Mills & Boon and I started trying to write my own romance novel when I was a student in my early twenties. I never got further than a few chapters before the inevitable work and family took over and that was it for the next fifteen or so years! Then in 2010 I stopped work to have my youngest daughter and I finally found the time to dig my old story out of the cupboard and try again. I finished the manuscript, submitted the first three chapters to Mills & Boon via the slush pile and waited, and five months later to my utter amazement I had a request for a full manuscript.
It then went through two big rounds of revisions, involving a rewrite of the last third of the book, plus lots of scene changes, and eventually the story was rejected. I was disappointed of course, but also hugely encouraged to keep on trying and in late 2011 I entered Mills & Boon’s global writing competition New Voices. The standard of entries was amazing and no one could have been more surprised than me when I eventually ended up in the Final 4. I got to work with Liz Fielding as my mentor and I learned more in that couple of months than I had in years of reading How-To books and blog tips.
Part of my runner-up prize was a phone call from a Mills & Boon editor. My New Voices entry wasn’t deemed strong enough to develop but I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to work on a new story with editorial support. I was asked to submit three chapters at a time and I received feedback and guidance as I went along. I think that’s one of the best things about Harlequin Mills & Boon, they are willing to work with you if they see potential for one of their lines and are prepared to stick with you until you get it right.
Back in May this year, a few days after I received feedback for chapters 7-9 of the new manuscript, I picked my three-year old up from preschool. I ejected our new puppy, Dave, into the garden for a pee break where he stood shivering in the rain, and I casually checked my inbox and found another email from my editor. Was I around for a phone call, she asked. I assumed she’d had another thought about the revisions and wanted to talk them over with me, so I emailed back to tell her I’d be around for the rest of the day. A few minutes later, she called.
I only remember bits and pieces of that conversation. While we were speaking, my three-year-old opened the door and let Dave in, whereupon he immediately peed on my kitchen floor and I still felt nothing but euphoria!
Mills & Boon RIVA wanted to buy my book!
It turned out that after sending me the revisions for chapters 7-9, my editor sent the manuscript to the senior editor for the line and she liked it enough to make me an offer. I was asked to write the final three chapters within a couple of weeks as they wanted to earmark the story for a December release. This meant completing the revisions and writing the end in a very tight timeframe for my normal ability but somehow I managed it without having a meltdown. My lovely family said nothing as I let the house revert to pigsty and fiddled with the laptop at all hours. A few weeks later the story was accepted and I was offered a further two-book contract. I still feel like I’m dreaming!
My debut novel is called ‘Secrets of the Rich and Famous’. Set in Chelsea, London, my heroine is an undercover journalist and my hero is an award-winning film producer who is in the middle of a casting-couch scandal.
Due to the RIVA relaunch it will initially only be published via Mills & Boon’s Direct to Consumer programme, although limited print copies will be available on Amazon UK from 7th December 2012 (get in quick!). Digital publication will hopefully follow at a later date, still to be confirmed.
You can learn more about Charlotte at her website. http://charlottephillipsbooks.com/