Stuff of Dreams
Ever wonder what it's like to get THE CALL? Well, it happened to our own Kali Anthony! She tells us about her writing journey and that much sought after phone conversation...
It was a dark and stormy night….
No. It wasn’t, actually. I can’t remember what kind of night it was, other than I was bone numbingly exhausted and desperately craving sleep. Before I did that, though, I checked on my emails. And there sat one from a Harlequin editor, asking whether she could give me a ring the next evening.
I think the only words which came out of my mouth were, ohmyGodohmyGodohmyGod on fast repeat. My husband asked what was wrong and I kind of got out in the breathless way of the hyperventilating, ‘I think the editor wants to arrange THE CALL.’
Then I got out of bed, made a cup of tea and grabbed a biscuit, trying to quell the heart palpitations that seemed to have taken over.
In many ways, my journey as a writer didn’t feel like it had been hard enough. Though on reflection, I have worked consistently hard. Up early in the morning, all before work, typing out the words. I’d been writing for around eight years, with a focus on category romance, particularly writing for Harlequin Presents/ Mills and Boon Modern. They’re my catnip, and from a publishing perspective, it’s where I wanted to be. I’d only every submitted two stories. The first, I received a polite rejection with the comments, ‘Warm believable characters, strong emotional conflict, not quite the hooks we want,’ so I knew I was at least pointing in the right direction. With my second story, I loved it and my beta readers did too. It finalled in the Valerie Parv award. This was a manuscript I'd laboured over. So I submitted it, and hoped.
Two months later I received an email. I thought it was another polite rejection, because the response had come through so quickly. Nope. It wasn’t a rejection but a revise and resubmit request.
I *might* have gone SQUEEEEEEEEEE!
You know it, that’s exactly what I did. Loudly. The neighbours would have heard.
Then I took a deep breath and got down to work. Did the revisions, returned the MS with a silent prayer, and waited. And waited. And waited.
For a year.
I didn’t waste that time. During that time I kept on writing. Finished a couple of stories, edited a few too, had ideas for others. I also tried to be patient but, in the end, I followed up the editor. To discover she hadn’t received my revised manuscript. Something had gone wrong; it was lost in the ether. So, I sent it again. Another eight weeks went by, then the email came through asking to chat.
And yes, that chat was THE CALL.
I can’t really remember what was said other than they were offering a two-book deal. The editor had lovely things to say about my story, but I can’t recall what any of them were even though I had a pen and paper handy to write stuff down. But truthfully, I was in shock. I asked when I could publicly spill the beans. I was told when an email was put out on social media. Half an hour later, I saw my Twitter getting active. The tweet had gone out. I was officially a Harlequin Presents/Mills and Boon Modern author!
Then things went a smidge crazy. In a joyous, hysterical kind of way with much celebration. Not even a request for some more revisions, could burst my bubble.
I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I’m going to be published and am joining a line with authors I love. It’s fantastic and unbelievable. It hardly feels real. I don’t know if it will ever sink in, when I’m going to be publishing stories alongside Harlequin Presents authors like Maisey Yates, Caitlin Crews, Annie West, Jackie Ashenden, and Claire Connelly, just to name a few. Now there’s going to be little ole me thrown into this stellar mix. And with all this, still come the moments where I’m thinking, ‘What the heck have I done?’
But a funny thing happened in the middle of this party. After drinking all of the champagne and celebrating madly I woke up on the second day of it all feeling eerily calm. Got out of bed and said, ‘Right, down to business. I’ve got a job to do.’ Because this wasn’t a hobby or a dream anymore, this was frighteningly real, and I had to perform. I had commitments and a deadline on top of my day job. Decisions to make about time frames for a second story.
And don’t think for a second that with all his happiness the anxiety didn’t creep in and that I didn’t sit there for a while and wonder how the heck I was going to achieve any of it. Luckily, I have friends who’ve done it before, and they told me I could do it too. I’d written a good book once, I could do it again, even if I was scared. Because being scared was all part of the business of writing.
You might ask in this process, what I’ve learned along the way. I have views, and whilst they’re my own they may be of help to others so here they are. Follow them or not, as you will.
Take your time
My first book took about eighteen months to write. I don’t regret a moment spent because I used that story to learn. I cut out 25,000 words, all darlings which I assassinated with impunity. I figured out what worked and what didn’t.
There comes a point when you must let it go, but the time I spent taught me more than rushing though the story would ever have.
Remember, when you sign a with a publisher you have obligations. Your time has essentially run out and you have deadlines. Get your learning in early and you’ll be better placed when the call comes.
Writing is a business
Sure, it’s a creative endeavour and a calling but unless you have a patron like the Medici family, it’s a business first and foremost. You’re creating a product you’re contractually (if trad published) bound to deliver. Never forget that. Never forget too, that you’re establishing a business relationship so start as you mean to finish, delivering the best story you can, on time. And with this in mind…
Be realistic about time-frames
It’s easy to get swept away in the excitement but really, really think about what you can deliver. Sure, we’re told to get out all of the books quickly but it’s no good killing yourself in the process. I get that you might feel guilty not being able to turn the total hot mess of a story into something that at least looks like a novel in a month (or at least, I did!!), but trying to achieve the unachievable isn’t going to help.
This is the hard conversation I had with myself, when I was asked how long I needed to write the second story. I reckon a publisher would far prefer to hear what’s realistic, than push you into something that’s not achievable where you need to ask for an extension of a deadline. They have timelines they need to meet, so want to know you can meet them too. No-one will thank you for having a breakdown because you haven’t been honest with yourself, or them.
You’re not alone
Chat to your writer friends. Your author friends. Honestly, they’re there to talk you down from the metaphorical emotional precipice, to help when you don’t know what to do. People have done it before you. Ask for help if you don’t know what you’re doing, because this publishing caper is confusing and new. It’s an uncomfortable sensation not knowing what you don’t know. Call for for assistance, don’t flail about guessing. I have so many people who've helped me over the years, and for that I remain ever grateful. Ally, Amy, Ainslie, Avril, Leah, Louise, Sandra and my PHS friends Trish, Ali, Robyn and Christy-Kate, to name but a few. Couldn't have done it without you and your support, you fabulous bunch of humans.
Finish the book
One thing I promised myself, was that I would finish the books I started. I made this decision because if I ever submitted a partial, I at least knew there was a whole book behind it, if I was ever asked for the full MS.
It also taught me how to write the middle of a story, which for me, is the hardest part. Beginnings and endings are the fun bit, the middle is where the hard slog and generalised torture starts for me. The bonus to finishing the book, is that I now have completed stories, ready to go. I can understand why you might not want to keep writing something that may never be accepted, but in my opinion, writing the whole story is what learning’s all about.
Writing is a solitary journey and can often be a lonely one, if you’re not getting any reward. There were days I seriously contemplated giving it up, but the voices in my head wouldn’t be quiet so I kept going. And here I am, about to be published. My first writing dream realised.
I hope my story about the call has given some inspiration to keep going if you’re thinking of packing it in, or some hope if you’re trying to get published or have books on submission. I loved hearing other people’s call stories, and one day hoped that person would be me. Now it is! That call is thrilling and terrifying and unbelievable, all rolled into one. I can’t wait to hold a hard copy book in my hands with my name as its author. Maybe then, I’ll realise my dream is real.
Until then the hard work continues. Good luck, happy holidays and happy writing.
Have you received the call or are you still waiting? Let us know here or on social media using #TheCall. We’d love to hear from you.