The last time
I did anything like this I was in 6th grade, and I think I was doing
an oral report about cats. And I was so nervous then that I twisted
the hem of my skirt in my hands until it was practically up around
my waist. You may have noticed I made a point of wearing pants
today. And if I suddenly freeze and go blank, I would appreciate
it if someone just sort of shouted out to me what I was just talking
Anyway, hi. My name is Julie Anne Long,
I'm a Bay Area native. To my everlasting delight, my first novel,
a historical romance called THE
RUNAWAY DUKE, will be published by Warner Books in August of
this year. I thought I'd tell you a little bit about how this happened,
and then offer a little advice about that netherworld that exists
between the moment you get "the call" and the moment your
first book appears in print, because it's a distinctly transitional
So the reason I'm sitting here today is largely because, back in
about March of 2002, destiny sent me to a different Laundromat.
I'm being a little facetious, but I truly can trace the beginning
of this particular journey back to that day. I usually do my laundry
on Wednesdays, in this place about a block from my house, because
on Wednesdays there's usually only one or two other sheepish, badly
dressed people in there-you know how laundry day is the only
clean thing left in your closet is a bridesmaid gown, or something.
But on this particular Wednesday, every single washer in my usual
Laundromat was inexplicably occupied. So I stared at it all for
a moment with a sort of sense of betrayal, and then lugged my stuff
a few blocks further up the street to this other little boutique
of a Laundromat, which I usually avoid, because it's a quarter more
for everything. It even had magazines fanned out on a little coffee
One of those magazines was the Learning Annex catalog.
I started idly flicking through it, and discovered that the esteemed
Literary Agent, Michael Larsen, was giving a class on how to get
your book published. According to the catalog, if you signed up
early enough, Michael's partner, Elizabeth Pomada, would review
partial fiction manuscripts and offer comments.
And I thought, hmmm.
At that time, I had just completed the first draft of THE RUNAWAY
DUKE. It was almost 500 pages long, set during the English Regency
period, and I truly had no idea what it was, from a genre
perspective. I suspected, however, that it was a romance, since
I've been a romance reader ever since I got in trouble for sneaking
a Rosemary Rogers novel out of my Mother's nightstand drawer
I'm pretty sure the book was Sweet Savage Love.
Anyhow, I registered for the Learning
Annex class and sent the first few chapters of my manuscript to
Elizabeth. And then I went to the class, but I didn't hear a bloody
thing Michael said, although I'm sure it was fascinating,
because I was sick with anticipation waiting to hear what Elizabeth
had to say about my submission.
Finally, at the end of class, when I sort of crept up to the front,
Michael had this to say. "Ohyou're Julie. Elizabeth
wants to see your whole manuscript."
I couldn't feel my legs after that.
I've had quite a few "I can't feel my legs" moments since
then. There was the call from Elizabeth in about July, saying she
wanted to represent me. I did a little dance and played that message
for everyone I know. And then there was another call from Elizabeth
a few months later, saying Warner Books was interested in my manuscript.
It's been an astonishing year.
And I've learned a lot, in a very short amount of time. I learned
that 500 pages is considered positively sprawling for a historical
romance, and that my book was indeed an historical romance. My editors
at Warner worked with me to chisel it down to a sleeker, more aerodynamic
romance novel size, which is typically 375-400 pages.
I've learned that, much like sonnets, romance novels have definite
structural requirementsfor example, happy endings are requisitebut
within that structure there are infinite story possibilities. You're
only limited by the stories and personalities you can dream up.
I learned that you don't just send your manuscript off to your editor
and thenVOILA!your book is in your hand the very next
day. It's a months-long proces involving revisions and edits and
reviews, during which you and your editor will exchange your manuscript
any number of times and will get to know each other well.
I learned that I stumbled into one of the most popular genresRegency-set
romanceand I think we have Jane Austen to blame for that:
I think if Jane Austen wrote about the Incas, or something, I we'd
have shelves full of Inca romances, and Warner Forever would be
the Inca romance line.
And, thanks to my detour to a different Laundromat, I learned that
there's actually no such thing as a detouror, rather, what
feels like a detour at the time may simply be an alternate route
to your lifelong dream.
Right now, as I mentioned earlier, I'm crossing over (with apologies
to John Edwards) into the world of the published from the world
of the unpublished. It's a distinctly transitional phase, and for
any writers in the audience who are wondering what to expect after
you get that call, and for writers who would love to get that call,
I can offer a few bullet points worth of general advice about easing
your passage into publication.
- Find and embrace a support group,
if you haven't yet. There's one for every genre. Because when
you get that call, odds are from that point on every time you
open your mouth the only thing that will come out will be book
book book book book. Your friends and family, I promise you,
will get sick of this fast. Other writers, however, will
find it gratifyingly fascinating, and they'll even understand
what you're babbling about. Support, ideas, commiseration -- its
value is immeasurable. My group is the SF RWA, which is full of
bright, fun, hard-working, talented ambitious people, and I found
a few new treasured friends.
- My next point is: Streamline your
life. Or see if you can acquire a trust fund or a rich, indulgent
spouse or a before you get your first romance novel published.
Just kidding! Truthfully, though, you'll very likely be very,
very busy, because while you're finishing the revisions
of your first book and writing your next against very tight deadlines,
you'll be building your website and working on promotions and
setting up signings, etc., and no doubt be working your usual
demanding day job and juggling friends and family. And every now
and then you'll need to stop to eat or take a shower or something.
And though you will get an advance, it probably won't change
your life dramaticallyat least not for your first book in
In short, the process really is a little like bringing home a
babyyou need make room in your life for it so you can nurture
it to completion. So look for any way possible to steal a little
more time out of your day: consolidate your bills, get that long-overdue
breakup over with, organize your email foldersanything
you can do to get your life into fighting trim. For example, I
decided to use part of my advance to get everything I own dry
cleaned for awhile, so bye-bye Laundromat. I'll have to find destiny
elsewhere from now on, I guess.
- Speaking of friends and family, you'll
probably need to set loving but firm boundaries with friends
and loved ones. Because your dream come true will change their
lives, too. You'll get a lot of reactions, ranging from joy to
a little bit of jealousy to confusion, and your loved ones will
want to help, but being human, they'll resist changes in their
lives. Explain how important this is to you, and that this frenzy
will be temporary because in a year or two you'll be raking in
the dough I wrote "pause for laughter here"
so meanwhile, you'd appreciate it if they would get used to hearing
from you once every two weeks instead of every two days, or figuring
out some other way to get to soccer practice, or what have you.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions.
About a year ago, I knew almost nothing about publishing. I wasn't
writing in a total vacuum, but very nearly. I learned fast, because
I shamelessly exposed my ignorance to various helpful people.
Now I can throw around terms like ARC's and CRM's and actually
sort of sound like I know what I'm talking about. No doubt your
publisher will have an email Author's Loop join, take advantage,
learn and dish with other writers. Some day you'll be able to
give back to newbies, too, and I'm looking forward to that day.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help.
I've always been the sort who prides herself on accomplishing
everything on my own. I've learned this isn't noble; it's just
plain stupid. There's simply no way you can do it all on your
own, and you'll find that most people will want to help. For example,
I've roped one multi-talented friend into assembling my promotional
items for Warner's sales force; I have another friend doing bookstore
reconnaissance for me in preparation for readings.
- This kind of goes hand in hand with
"streamline your life," but I put it in a different
category. Make a plan. In this day and age, we first-time
authors really have to actively promote ourselves. Get a calendar
and mark on it, to the best of your knowledge, the milestones
in the editorial process, the deadlines for your promotional materials,
and keep it separate from your daily life calendar. Having it
laid out in front of you can help you be prepared.
- And in conclusion, you'd think they'd
throw you a parade when you sell your first book, but it doesn't
happen that way. So throw yourself metaphorical parade
because selling your first book is a momentous, rare and wonderful
event, and it will change your life. Celebrate with loved
ones, buy yourself a gift. But don't blow your advance, because
you're really going to need it for promotion and conferences like