Friday, August 15, 2008

Gemma's Close Call

And the randomly selected winner of a signed copy of Alibi in High Heels and a spa set is.... Tori Lennox! Congrats, Tori! Send me an email to confirm your mailing address and I'll pop it in the mail to you ASAP.

Happy anniversary to us, happy anniversary to us, happy anniveeeeeeeeersary dear Killer Fiction…

Okay, I won’t subject you to my singing any longer. I’ll just cut right to the good stuff: today’s prize! I’m giving away a signed copy of ALIBI IN HIGH HEELS along with a cute little spa set of Sheer Freesia body wash, shower gel, and a shower puff. Smells awesome!

I have to say, I have been absolutely loving reading everyone’s “The Call” stories this week. It just goes to show that writers have wildly different paths to publication. Mine started out one fine day when I home alone, bored, and in desperate need of reading material. I’d never really read romance much before, but I’d read everything in the house except this romance book shelf that I’d gotten as a free gift somewhere. So, I figured I’d give the genre a try.

Two hours later I threw it against the wall. I’m sorry to say it was not a good romance novel. (No, I won’t be naming names.) In fact, it was horrible. Terrible. Sucked big time. I was so disgusted that I decided right there and then that I could do better than that. So, I did a little research online, found out what the publisher was looking for, what sort of books were out there, started reading romance in all my free time. I set aside two weeks to write my novel.

Well, turns out it’s a lot harder than I’d thought to write a terrible romance novel, let alone a good one. My two weeks turned into three, into four, into five… finally after three months I had what I thought was a pretty descent romance. So, I sent off a query to the publisher and they immediately responded asking to see the full manuscript. I was over the moon! I packed my baby off with loving care, sure I was on the fast track to the NY Times bestseller list, and waited for a reply. And waited. And waited. (Apparently it took a lot longer to read a romance novel than I thought, too.) Finally I heard back. She loved it… but it needed some work. Fix these things and resubmit. At first, I was crushed. What did she mean my masterpiece needed work!? But, by that time I’d joined some online writing communities who all told me I was nuts if I was upset by a request for revisions. This is a fabulous thing. So, I picked myself up, rewrote the thing and sent it back in.

Only to be crushed again when that editor left the publishing house and her replacement sent me a form rejection. Apparently my first manuscript was not to be my bestseller.

But by that time I was hooked. The writing bug had bit and I just knew I could do this. Like everything else about publishing, it just looked like selling was going to take a little bit longer than I’d originally planned. So, I gave myself a deadline. If I hadn’t sold a book by two years from that day, I’d consider writing a hobby and switch career focuses to something else.

And so, I kept writing. Even when my second, third, fourth, and fifth manuscripts turned out not to be my bestsellers, I kept writing. And getting rejected. By the time I was ready to sit down and start book number 6, my pile of agent and editor rejections was almost as tall as I was. With heels. I was at my wit’s end. I had no idea what publishers were looking for. I’d made 5 incorrect guesses and was beyond frustrated trying to figure out the secret formula to get in the door. So, I had a “screw-it” moment and started writing the book I wanted to write instead of the book I thought I could sell. I wrote about funny, poignant, taboo, and fun stuff. I had no idea if anyone else would like it, but I LOVED it. Once it was finished, I packed it off to a slew of contests and awaited the responses.

What do you know, it did well! Apparently when I turned off my internal censor, I could actually write something pretty decent. That manuscript won several smaller contests, and I was absolutely stunned and blown away when it finaled in the Golden Heart contest. (Along with Kathy!)

Being a Golden Heart finalist was like being queen for a week at the national conference. It was my first writing conference of any kind, my first time meeting other writers face to face, and my first time pitching anything to anyone in person. I was so nervous. I think my first pitch consisted of, “I wrote a book. I’m not sure what it’s about because I’m shaking too hard to read my notes. But it’s good. I swear.” Luckily, I got better. Luckily, I stopped shaking. And luckily, I pitched to Leah Hultenschmidt on the last day of conference and not the first. I think I had my pitch down by the time I grabbed her in an elevator and shoved a business card at her, telling her all about my Golden Heart book and this other little book, Spying in High Heels, that I’d been working on in the meantime. Another one where I’d turned off my internal censor and come up with this crazy idea to blend romance, humor, and mystery into one book. I’m not sure if she was just being nice, or really interested, but she asked to see both books as soon as I got home. I was thrilled! I didn’t think my conference experience could get any better.

Well, it did. Just a little. When my no-rules book won the Golden Heart that night. Yep, that’s me in the picture wearing my Golden Heart necklace just after the ceremony. Still looking a little stunned. (And, yes, that is a janitor closet behind me. Ah, the glamorous life…)


So, remember that two year deadline I’d set for myself after my first rejection? Well, the very day I hit the two year expiration date on my promise to myself, I got a call from my agent. He told me he had good news and bad news. The good news was that Leah loved Spying in High Heels and wanted to buy it. The bad news was I was now going to be a very busy woman.

That’s the kind of bad news I can handle.

I did a very professional, “Uh, huh. Sure, great,” then hung up and screamed like a banshee, jumping up and down on the sofa. (I am the original Tom Cruise.) When I calmed down, I called my critiqued partner… who then screamed like a banshee and we both jumped some more.

While that first sale was an amazing experience, I have to say that with each subsequent book sale, I still get that OMG-is-this-really-happening-to-me feeling. While there’s nothing like your first, it never gets old.

I’ve just learned now that when it comes to deadlines, to give myself a little more wiggle room in the future. ;) No more close calls.


~Gemma "Trigger Happy" Halliday

39 comments:

Linda C said...

What a great story Gemma. Just proves percisstance pays off.

When I was writing my Master's thesis it took way longer than I had planned. In the middle of it, I got laid off from my job. You would think, great now you have plenty of time to finish it. Wrong, Michigan in 1995 had record heat and we had no A/C in the house. However, I would keep sending pieces of it to my monitor with comments being sent back.

Finally the heat broke and I got another job. I finished it and sent it in. A week later I received it back thinking I had more revisions to make. It came back with the note "Great Job" A+.

I ran screaming up the driveway and called my husband out of breath. He sent me flowers at work the next day. Not quite as dramatic as your call story.

Linda C

Maureen said...

I enjoyed all the first call stories this week and yours is another great of working hard and writing a story that you love.

Karin said...

Ok OK Now I know I am physic :>)
Last night I was thinking about my current reading load. I used to read anything. I was even accused of re-reading the cereal box at breakfast if I couldn't find anything else. One time my mother thought I was taking too long to vacuum a room and walked in to find me pushing the sweeper back and forth with one hand - with a book in my other hand!
Anyway, now that my hair is turning grey and my eyes are growing dim – if a book doesn’t grab me in the first several pages it goes! Thank you for sticking with it and writing books that you would enjoy reading!
Maybe I need to change my page count and give the books a 'little more wiggle room'

Minna said...

Great story!

cas2ajs said...

Love your "call" story too, Gemma. I'm actually reading Alibi now so I don't need in the draw, though I would love an autographed copy. I was wondering, though, any more news on the books being made into a USA Network series? I've been watching your website - I did an email to the network. I've been waiting for more news about that.

Cheryl S.

Christie Craig said...

Gemma,

Wow, this has been a great week and I have so enjoyed learning everyone's stories.

Thanks for coming up with this idea.

We all have a unique story to tell. Hmm...we must all be story tellers.

Crime Scene Christie

Shari C said...

Thank you for your interesting 'call' story. I loved all the 'your call' stories this week and it was fun to read everyone's response to their call.

Glad you are able to do something you love. Congratulations!

Sandra08081998 said...

Gemma, thanks for the great call story. They've been fun to read this week. I bet nothing compares to getting that "first call" after all the hard work and determination that went into that first book. It sounds like contests are a great way for writers to get their foot in the door as well.

terrio said...

By the end of this I wanted to jump up and down. LOL! Love the story and the reason behind why you decided to write. Thank goodness you gave yourself that wiggle room.

Though that done in three months thing is making me feel like a total slacker....LOL!

Karen H in NC said...

Gemma, loved your call story as well as all the others this week. Sounds like the underlying theme with all authors is to ignore the internal censors and go with the gut feeling. First instincts are quite often correct.

tetewa said...

I'm loving reading everyone's stories this week!

Gemma Halliday said...

Linda, I love your "call" story! Woo! A+ is totally a reason to go screaming. And love that the hubby sent your flowers. (Seriously, where do I find guys like that?!)

~Gemma

Gemma Halliday said...

Karin - I read cereal boxes, too! Lol! I always have to have something to read. I'm always amazed at how loooooong an hour can be on the treadmill without a good book.

~Gemma

Gemma Halliday said...

Cheryl - Sadly, no new news on the TV show. With the writer's guild strike, and now threat of an actor's guild strike, it's been pushed back to possibly the 2009 season. I know the producers are still really behind the show and want to see it on the air, so I'm hopeful!

~Gemma

Gemma Halliday said...

Terri - You are not a slacker! Hey, notice that three month ms didn't sell. Lol! Take as long as you need to write the book you want to write. I know some authors that can crank out a fabulous book in two months and others that need a year to write the same thing. No biggie, it’s the end product that matters.
For me, Dorchester has encouraged me to put out a book every 6-8 months, and that’s a schedule I’m comfortable with. But I know other authors who have longer schedules and that works fine for them, too .

~Gemma

Gemma Halliday said...

Sandra – Yes, contest are great! I think they’re an awesome way to get some initial unbiased feedback on your work, and also great opportunities to get your work in front of editors if you final. I highly recommend them. And conferences, too! As you can see, both Leslie and I sold to Leah through conference pitches. That’s also how I got my last agent and my manager. I think it’s well worth the money to be able to meet editors and agents face to face.

~Gemma

Sean and Anna said...

What a fun story! I'm glad you finally wrote the book you wanted to write and stayed true to yourself.

Virginia said...

This was a great story. I have really enjoyed you guys stories this week. It amazes me what you go through to write a book. I knew it wasn't easy. I don't think I could ever be a writer. I think there is a lot of stress to writing a book.

Meljprincess said...

I'M SO GLAD ALL AUTHORS AT KF GOT "THE CALL". ALL YOUR BOOKS ARE DELIGHTFUL!

Enjoyed your "call" story, Gemma!

Mel K.

bookworm said...

I have really enjoyed reading everyone's stories this week, it's pretty enlightening. Your persistence really paid off, congrats!

Gram said...

It seems that almost all writers have "instant" success, just like actors, potters, etc. I do not know anyone who isn't better for working hard at the thing they love.
What a great story.

flchen1 said...

Sweet, Gemma! What an awesome story! It seems to show that when you write the story of your heart, that story will speak to readers, too! Congrats on the Golden Heart!

Keri Ford said...

Great story, Gemma. Now be honest, if you hadn't sold on your 2year mark, would have kept trying to sell anyway??

Terry S said...

Another great call story. Every one of the call stories was unique but each had the commonality of persistence and perseverance.

Happy anniversary to all of you and thanks for all your lovely, lovely words.

Estella said...

Am enjoying the first call posts.
So glad everyone persisted and got published.

Ali said...

It's amazing reading all these first call stories *bg*

Gemma, I hope the show goes through for the 2009 season... that would be awesome :)

Tori Lennox said...

Great "call" story, Gemma! Isn't it funny how reading something awful can make you want to write? Though in my case it was a TV show not a book. *g*

Jeanette J said...

I think I would scream like a banshee too. Thanks for the story

Kathy Bacus said...

Great call story, Gemma! I'm so glad you decided to break the rules and turn off that internal censor because your books are fabulous!

And you're so right about living the dream. With each new sale, I still pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming.

Oh, and happy anniversary!

~Bullet Hole~

Anonymous said...

I love your books. Can't wait for the film.
JOYE

catslady said...

Perserverance pays off - yes!!! I've always thought that the books authors WANT to write as opposed to the "I need to write what is selling right now" are the best books ever.

Sue A. said...

What an amazing story! You were fated to be a writer and thank goodness for us lucky readers!

What ever happened to those first 5 manuscripts? Did you manage to salvage anything from them? All that hard work for nothing. Or maybe not, I'm sure you learned something from the experience.

squiresj said...

I guess my call will be on hold even longer. I am now possibly facing more surgery. My doctor thinks 10 years ago the accident caused me to have a slipped disk and the ankle fusion and knee replacement has added stress to it. Now it is pressing on a nerve.
I would love to win.

J.J. Hebert said...

Yay for persistence!

Leah Hultenschmidt said...

I hardly think you "grabbed" me in the elevator and "shoved" your card at me. ;-) But I do still have the card. It's adorable - with pink high heels and handcuffs. That pretty much says it all right there...

Leah Hultenschmidt said...

I hardly think you "grabbed" me in the elevator and "shoved" your card at me. ;-) But I do still have the card. It's adorable - with pink high heels and handcuffs. That pretty much says it all right there...

Gemma Halliday said...

Now be honest, if you hadn't sold on your 2year mark, would have kept trying to sell anyway??

At that point, yes, I would have kept trying. I'd had enough positive feedback that I really felt like this was what I was supposed to do. Plus I was still a little high from my awesome first conference and the GH win. :)

~Gemma

Gemma Halliday said...

What ever happened to those first 5 manuscripts?
They're hiding. :) They were learning experiences, but they're honestly so different from what I'm writing now that I don't have any plans of revisiting them anytime soon.

However, that 6th one, the screw-it golden heart winner, I've revamped and rewritten into a TV movie that's currently being looked at by Lifetime. So, I'm still hopeful that one will make it out into the big world in some form.

~Gemma

Faye Hughes said...

Gemma,

Loved the blog. And I'm not the least bit surprised that Leah loved Spying in High Heels!

Happy Anniversary!

Faye