Thursday, September 03, 2009
From Veteran to Newbie
How does a writer go from being a veteran to a newbie? Guest blogger Irene Hannon tells us her story.
A huge thank you to Brandilyn for letting this suspense newbie say a few words.
Newbie. I’m still adjusting to that classification. After 26 books, a RITA award and various other honors, I considered myself a publishing veteran. But when I decided to move from category romance into single-title, I discovered that no one had ever heard of me. (At least it seemed that way!) I felt like I was starting all over again—and in many ways, I was.
During my career as a published author, I’ve written for four different houses. For the past 11 years, I’ve been with Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired line, writing contemporary category romance. But a few years ago, I decided I wanted to do bigger books as well. I dabbled with a longer contemporary romance (actually, a double romance), but the market didn’t seem all that interested in it. I remember having a conversation at a conference with an editor who said that my story--about two estranged sisters who reunite one summer when their mother has a stroke--needed a stronger hook…like an Amish theme.
Sorry. Not my thing. So I tucked the completed manuscript away in a drawer, where it remains. Maybe someday it will find a home.
At the same time I was struggling to find my longer-book niche, I was also struggling, period. My corporate career had vaulted me into an executive position that left me no time or energy for fiction writing. Although it was a great job, what I really wanted to do was write. Fighting rush hour traffic, battling corporate politics and being indentured to a relentless BlackBerry that never slept had lost its appeal.
Fortunately, I’d laid the groundwork for that transition by building a solid career as a category author. So I was able to chuck the corporate world without becoming a starving artist. (A word of advice here—unless you have a great trust fund or secure source of income, don’t quit your day job until you’ve established yourself as a writer…and selling one book doesn’t constitute a track record.)
Once I was able to write full time, my productivity soared—and I also had the time to pursue an idea for a suspense book.
The next hurdle was finding an agent. You don’t need one for category, and I was always comfortable handling the business side of writing. Moving into single-title, however, I knew I’d need an agent to shop the book around for me. I assumed, after selling more than two dozen books, that finding one would be easy. Nope. Seems category doesn’t count much when you want to move to bigger books. But after a several-month search, I connected with Chip MacGregor at an ACFW conference.
By then my first suspense book had morphed into a series. Two more FBI characters had appeared, begging to have their stories told. So without even a nibble from a publisher, and in between category commitments, I took the plunge and wrote the whole series on spec. Kind of like newbie writers do when they’re trying to break into the published ranks.
I’m happy to report my gamble paid off—Chip sold my Heroes of Quantico series to Revell. The first book, Against All Odds—a high-action story set in the U.S. and Afghanistan, in which the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team is charged with protecting the estranged daughter of a diplomat—came out in February. It was on both the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists for multiple months, and is now in its third printing. The second book, An Eye For An Eye, is a psychological thriller in which a reunion between an FBI agent and a psychologist turns deadly—and the killer is still on the hunt. It was released September 1 and is off to a great start. Booklist calls it “superbly written” and goes on to stay that it “neatly delivers all the thrills and chills of Suzanne Brockmann's Team Sixteen series with the subtly incorporated faith elements found in Dee Henderson's books.” Both books garnered 4 ½-star, Top Pick reviews from RT Book Reviews. Plus, I just signed a new three-book contract with Revell for another suspense series.
All that said, I have to admit that becoming a newbie again was a pretty humbling experience. Yet I learned an important lesson: When spreading your wings, perseverance, risk-taking and a belief in your own talent is as important to multi-published authors as it is to the unpublished. I was also reminded that while nothing about this business is easy or guaranteed, if you want something badly enough you can find a way to make it happen. But it takes work—homework, groundwork and hard work.
While making the leap from category to single-title was a challenge, it’s been a thrilling—and rewarding—ride. And maybe I’ll even get past the “Irene who?” stage one of these days!