Today, we are lucky enough to have Harlequin Presents author Michelle Smart on the blog. Thank you so much, Ms. Smart, for being here with us!
AN: How did you become a published author?
MS: I became a published author because I was lucky enough to write a book that an editor wanted to buy! That might sound like a facetious answer but it truly isn’t – in this industry there is an element of luck in that you have to get your book in front of an editor who is grabbed by your story and especially grabbed by your voice. I’ve always been a bookworm and always loved writing but it wasn’t until 2008, when my hubby and I went to Rome for our Wedding Anniversary that the romance bug truly bit me again and I decided it was time to do the one thing I’d promised myself since I was a teenager – to write my own Mills & Boon (what Harlequin books are published under in the UK)! My first two submissions were rejected at the partial stage, my third involved an R&R on my partial, which was also subsequently rejected, but then with my fourth submission I was invited to send in the full manuscript. It went through three rounds of revisions but was ultimately rejected. However, the editor I’d been working with had complete faith in me and invited me to write something new with her guidance (that’s what I mean about an author’s voice having to grab an editor – if she hadn’t seen something in my voice she enjoyed so much, she would never have gone out on a limb to help me craft a story right from its conception stage). This book sold within a week of me sending the full in to her!
I can’t speak for any other publishing house but with Harlequin there is none of the ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ business. I didn’t attend a single conference or enter a single pitch contest before I was signed (although I did enter the Mills & Boon New Voices competition twice and got absolutely nowhere!). I got noticed through the slush pile. I love the slush pile!
AN: What was that like when you got “the call”? How long did you write before you became published?
MS: Even though I was working under an editor, The Call was the most enormous surprise of my life! I don’t think there can be a single author alive who, after submitting to Harlequin, hasn’t dreamt of The Call, myself included, but when mine came it took me completely by surprise. For a start, the book hadn’t undergone any revisions, plus it had only been on the editor’s desk for a week. However, my editor had been offered a new job working for Harlequin’s single titles, so sped-read mine and made the call on her last day working for the category lines. She called me at 5.15pm. I was lying on the sofa suffering from the flu (oh, woe is me!) and it was one of those crazy moments in your life where everything is etched in your memory but etched as a blur! It took me almost five years to get there but it was worth every minute of it. I now have the best job in the world J
AN: Can you tell us what a day for you is like, in terms of writing?
MS: I can only really write when the kids are at school so as soon as they’re gone, I’ll have a (very) quick tidy-up then sit on the sofa with the laptop on a cushion on my lap and get writing… Okay, I don’t exactly get writing immediately. There’s always a good hour of procrastination to be done first. I write until the kids come home and also often write in the evenings when they’re in bed. My only real habit (apart from hourly coffee) is that I need to listen to music when I write. As long as I have my earphones and some caffeine, I’m good to go.
AN: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for my readers hoping to publish a book? If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were just starting out, what would you say?
MS: My words of wisdom really only applies to people wanting to sub to Harlequin’s category lines – read as many of them as you can! I devoured every Presents/Modern that released (I still do) because that was and is my absolute favourite category line. Also, don’t think about it too much: some hopeful category writers approach writing a category as if there’s a checklist that needs to be ticked off (yes, I am raising my hand up as being guilty of that when I started!). But my main bit of advice is the old adage of ‘practice makes perfect.’ The more you write, the more it becomes like second nature. Consume the books and then, when you sit down and write, let your characters consume you.
If I could go back in time and talk to myself, I wouldn’t say anything. The route I took was the right route for me. The rejections didn’t knock me back – I knew that I was on a learning curve and getting closer and closer to my dream, so those rejections just made me more determined to get it right.
You can find out more about Michelle Smart here.
You can follow her on Twitter here.
You can follow her on Facebook here.
Her next Presents releases in May. You can pre-order it here.