Posted On February 8, 2013 by Print This Post

Surviving ‘Nearly There’ with Anna Sugden

We’ve all heard about authors who’ve scored a six-figure contract and major media coverage with their debut novel. And while we fantasize about this happening to us,  each of us will embark on a different road to publishing success. Today, Anna Sugden shares her insightful and inspiring journey. 

Welcome to RU, Anna!

Anyone who’s been in the writing game for a while knows there is no easy stage in the journey to getting published. But having just achieved that magical leap over the final hurdle, I can say categorically that the hardest part for me was ‘nearly there’.

In the beginning, there is so much to learn. Once you get into the romance writing community and join RWA (and, for me, eHarlequin), the world opens up for you. The amount of help and advice is truly amazing, if a little daunting. It’s also inspiring to have everyone, from the best in the industry to the most recently published, as well as the ‘nearly there’ group, sharing their experiences, writing processes and techniques with a lowly newbie. And, you find others who are in the same boat as you – some of whom will become the dearest friends you’ll ever have.

Anna SugdenYou have to be brave to make the next step and let someone, a stranger, read your work. It’s probably the first time you’ll learn the double-edged sword of constructive criticism – the thrill that someone believes you can write and despair that your work sucks! You learn to revise. Then you cross your fingers as you reach the next stage – submitting to editors, agents and contests.

Somewhere along the line, you’ll learn a little gem that will help you make the step-change your writing needs to change those pro forma, ‘Dear Author’ rejections into ‘Dear Anna’ nice rejections (asking to see more). You’ll begin to creep up the standings in those contests until you finally join the divas as a finalist!

Then, you’ll find another gem, make another step-change and you’ll start to win those contests. The rejections become revision requests and your manuscripts get passed up the line. You’ll start giving workshops, judging contests and writing articles.

That’s when you hit ‘nearly there’.

At this point, contests lose their value – the feedback is of limited use and you can get yourself in front of the editors or agents you’re targeting. Even the lovely bling loses its appeal ;). Similarly, it’s hard to find workshops that can help you. Not because you know everything, but because it’s hard to know what it is exactly your work is missing. Besides, most workshops are targeted at beginners/intermediates or published authors. Not much in-between.

Submissions become a more complex process as you revise and revisit, trying to find that elusive ‘something’ that will help you over that final hurdle. They also become more heartbreaking – so close, but still a no.

Then, there’s the bittersweet scenario of your friends selling. You’re thrilled beyond belief for them, but you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have a pang of ‘when will it be my turn?’

So, how do you survive ‘nearly there’?

I wish I had a magic answer that would ease the pain of those of you at that stage. I don’t. But I can tell you what I did to help myself survive.

     Keep Going!

My lovely husband always says that the only way to guarantee you won’t make it is to give up. If you’re still in the game, there’s still hope.

This may sound obvious, but for every success story, there is another of someone who just gave up. Who knows if that next submission would have been The One?

But it’s hard to keep going, when all you get is ‘sorry, but no’. When you get so close to that sale you can almost smell the contract, but get let down at the last minute – believe me, I know!

So …

      Take a Short Break

This may sound like it contradicts the one above, but actually it can help recharge your batteries and keep you going. Plus it’s a great time to refill the creative well; read, watch films, do something different, learn something new.

The key is that writers have to write. While you’re busy doing something else, that writer’s mind will clear out the cobwebs and wash the windows to let the sunshine in. You can say you won’t write for a month and almost without fail before the first week is up, your mind is whirring with story ideas.

Which leads me to …

       Write Something New or Different

We all have that one book inside us that we yearn to write. The one that will never get published because the market isn’t there or because it’s outside the traditional publishing box. The one that we plan to write some day, when we’re ‘grown up’.

When you’re struggling to be motivated, the perfect antidote is to start something new – that is just for you. It doesn’t matter that it may never get published, although these days, the publishing dynamics are changing daily, so you can never say never. This is the book of your heart, the book you dream about. The one you can write for fun.

Also …

      Get an Expert Opinion

Good critique partners are wonderful. Often, though, they’re at the same stage of the game as you. They can look at techniques, story arcs, character development and plot. They can help you refine your voice and make your story sing. But, nine times out of ten, they can’t help you find that elusive ‘something’ that will make the difference for a sale.

Find someone who can decode exactly what is needed for your work – an editor, an agent or a NYT bestselling author. Invest in their opinion. There are plenty of fundraisers (e.g. Brenda Novak’s Diabetes Auction), give-aways and chances to pay for expert opinion. Including buying a freelance editor’s services. I know, for sure, my agent’s invaluable advice as well as her insightful input into my manuscript helped make the difference that finally got me the sale.

Finally …

      Make Your Own Luck!

At the end of the day, there is a certain amount of luck involved in success. In publishing, it is no different. Having the right story hit the right editor/agent’s desk at the right time, just as the market is taking off or a slot opens up for that book … boy, do you need luck!

The thing is, to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn, the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.

Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep learning. Keep networking. Keep submitting. The luck will come.

You can survive ‘nearly there’. It’s not easy and, most of the time, it’s not fun. But no matter how bad it gets, if you keep going, you can make it over that final hurdle.

I know, because I did. 

  ***

Have you switched sub-genres or hired a professional editor? What steps have you taken to keep the dream alive?

***

Amanda Brice joins us on Monday, February 11th.

*** 

Bio: Three-time Golden Heart finalist, Anna Sugden, was a global marketing executive for a major blue-chip, multinational company, then a primary school teacher. In 2002, she and her husband were posted to New Jersey from their native England and she got the chance to follow her dream of becoming a romance writer when her work permit hit a major snag. Her writing career was launched after a course at the Gotham Writers Workshop led to her discovering Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, New Jersey Romance Writers. 

A winner of numerous awards, Anna writes heart-warming contemporary romance, with an English twist. She is a founder member of the Romance Bandits and a regular contributor to The Healthy Writer Blog. Now back in England, Anna and her husband share their Cambridge home with two adopted black cats. She loves watching sports (especially hockey and football), classic films, penguins and shoes! 

Anna’s debut novel, A PERFECT DISTRACTION, will be released by Harlequin SuperRomance in September 2013. 

You can learn more about Anna at www.annasugden.com.

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43 Responses to “Surviving ‘Nearly There’ with Anna Sugden”

  1. Anna, what a wonderful summary of the wild ride that is our journey to publication! And a big happy congratulations on your crossing that last hurdle and selling your book!! I’m so excited for you.

    I haven’t ever hired a professional editor but I have switched things up when frustration got too much to face. Actually, that last switch up (writing a paranormal instead of my usual sassy contemporary) was the key I seemed to need, as the next thing I wrote after that sold :-)

    Again, a big happy congrats!!!

    Posted by Tawny Weber | February 8, 2013, 4:43 am
    • Hey Tawny! Thanks for stopping by!

      I definitely couldn’t have crossed that hurdle without you cheering me on.

      I wonder if changing things up makes our writing fresher or if it’s more that we learn something new when we tackle a new genre?

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 6:20 am
  2. Hi Anna!

    Great post. I agree. The “nearly there” years (and it is years) are the worst. It’s so easy to become defeated. My “nearly there” years occurred during the big market slump for historicals. At least I could blame the market for my woes :-)

    Two things got me through. One – a published author friend who kept reminding me, “Someone’s buying.” That led me to taking a closer look at debut novels and deconstructing what they had that my manuscript lacked. And two – I started a paranormal historical that got me excited to create again. I sold my straight historical before that the paranormal was finished. It became my second book to publish.

    Posted by Donna MacMeans | February 8, 2013, 5:03 am
  3. Hey Donna! So great to see another Romance Bandit here!

    I must admit to loving The Trouble with Moonlight and wishing your publisher had bought the others.

    You have a very analytical approach to problem-solving – I’m so envious because you come up with some great insights. I wish I had the patience to deconstruct books!

    Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 6:22 am
  4. Hi Anna,

    If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Submitting tests the patience like no other.

    Congrats on your book!

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 8, 2013, 6:43 am
  5. Hey, Anna, what a great piece! I spent so much time “nearly there.” Everything you say is so very true! Huge congrats on A PERFECT DISTRACTION! (Love the title, btw.) Can’t wait to get my hands on it!

    Posted by Susan Sey | February 8, 2013, 7:48 am
  6. Anna, this is an article all “nearly-theres” should read. As a nearly-there myself, I know all of the frustration and heartbreak of which you speak. I have been very close to giving up more than once, but I can’t stop writing. I have tried! I don’t think I have any urgent story that must be told, but I have lots of small stories about ordinary people that I think would touch others. NYC doesn’t seem to agree with me, but that’s okay. :) I’ll keep writing!

    Thank you for being such a hard-working inspiration for me.

    Posted by Caren Crane | February 8, 2013, 8:29 am
    • Hey Caren! As one who loves your voice, I’d be so happy to see your small stories about ordinary people.

      As you know, I still have my romantic suspenses sitting in the wings for when life gets me down. One of these days they may even see the light of day!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 8:34 am
  7. Morning Anna!

    I’m living in the murky world of being nearly there to the nearly there….lol….I just need the final mental push to get me over the edge into actually hiring an editor or submitting my synopsis. I have a negative/scared mind set that won’t let me just push/kick the extra last few yards….

    Congratulations on your book – I look forward to reading it!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 8, 2013, 9:21 am
    • Hi Carrie! Thanks for the congrats.

      Congratulations yourself on being ‘nearly there to nearly there’. That in itself is a huge achievement!

      You know, you’re not alone. Everyone feels the same about submitting their work. Have you thought about taking a halfway step and putting your work out to contest to get some feedback? Also if you final, the submission work is done for you!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 9:24 am
  8. Excellent, insightful (I almost wrote inciteful, tee hee) article, Anna. And so true. It’s often a long, arduous path to publication, but persistence is the most effective tool.

    So happy for your success and can’t wait for the release of A PERFECT DISTRACTION — a perfect title!

    Posted by Jo Robertson | February 8, 2013, 10:05 am
    • Thanks, Jo! Having my wonderful Bandita sisters was a major plus to surviving. You all believed in me and kept me going.

      I’m thrilled with my title! It suits the book wonderfully too *g*. Now I’m on tenterhooks to see what my cover will look like.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 10:54 am
  9. Congratulations on your sale. Great tips, Anna. There’s one on your list that I’ve not done, so I’ll have to try a new approach. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Wsishing you many more sales.

    Posted by Sia Huff | February 8, 2013, 11:39 am
  10. So true, Anna! Everything you’ve said has been my experience. Just keep inching forward, keep writing something new, and never give up. It’s perseverance that wins you that contract. Congratulations!

    Posted by Rachael Slate | February 8, 2013, 11:51 am
    • Thanks, Rachael!

      I should have included my own story of perseverance. The book I just sold was first written in 2006. It was my 6th full manuscript. It was rejected by Harlequin, but with a revision request. I revised it and it was rejected again.

      Wanda Ottewell, who eventually bought it, first judged it in 2007. I submitted the revised version to her and she rejected it, with another revision request. I revised the book again and this time, it was successful.

      In the meantime – I wrote several other manuscripts, some romantic suspenses, won some more contests, got another GH final and a bunch more rejections!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 12:16 pm
  11. Hi Anna – CONGRATULATIONS!!! I’m so excited for you! Thanks so much for this encouraging post!

    I’m so glad you said “Take a short break,” although in my case the break has been longer than I anticipated. I was just getting to “nearly there” – I had a request to revise and expand a story right before we moved from Cincinnati to Chicago. I haven’t yet found a way to write while babysitting for an infant (my grandbaby), but I’m hoping the break will help my writing in the long run.

    Thanks again for this post – I needed it!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 8, 2013, 12:00 pm
    • Becke!!!! So good to see you!! We really must get that drink sometime!!

      Thank you so much – I’m glad there was something in the article that spoke to you. Life has a way of interfering with all our good writing intentions. I can’t tell you how many times my writing has been derailed for non-writing interruptions (including a move back home to England!). You will find your way back and will be a better writer for the break.

      I have faith in you!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 12:19 pm
  12. Anna, what a fantastic piece – and SOOOOO true. I remember winning Australia’s unpublished manuscript contest, our equivalent of the Golden Heart in 2005. It was wonderful but it was also depressing because after writing and staying unpublished for as long as I had, I looked at the $2,000 cheque and thought, “That’s about it for what I’ll ever earn from my writing.” Thank goodness, I sold the next year – but I still felt like I was hovering on the ‘almost there’ clifftop forever. And it’s so disheartening when you know you’re doing pretty much everything right – as you say, what’s missing at that stage is often quite hard to pinpoint. For me, it was learning to write emotion. What was it for you?

    Posted by Anna Campbell | February 8, 2013, 1:32 pm
    • Thanks so much, Anna!

      I think, for me, it was all about focusing the romantic conflict, then building it up cohesively with the character conflicts. Sounds technical – one of those things that you can always see in other people’s writing, but never in your own. My fabulous agent really pinpointed the issue and worked me hard until it was right!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 4:30 pm
  13. Anna, these are great tips! I think the road becomes especially difficult when feedback is positive, except that nothing sells. It’s that “what’s the problem” issue you noted. Writing something else and taking a break are great ideas.

    I’m so glad you’ve sold, and I can’t wait to read A Perfect Distraction!

    Posted by Nancy Northcott | February 8, 2013, 2:14 pm
    • Thanks, my fellow ‘almost there’ sufferer! having you alongside me, going through it all at the same time, helped me make it through! I’m so glad we both made it over the hurdle and will be wearing our pink ribbons together in Atlanta!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 4:31 pm
  14. Hello, Anna!

    Thank you for a fabulous post. Now that we have the option to self-publish, I think that increases the pressure on those writers who hope to sign with a traditional publisher. While some authors are making big money through self-publishing, it’s important for writers to ask themselves if they’re in it for the money or because they love to write. For me, the latter makes sense because there are certainly easier ways to make money. :)

    Congratulations on your contract and thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 8, 2013, 2:14 pm
    • Thanks, Jen, and thank you for inviting me along. I hope it’s given people at that horrid ‘nearly there’ stage something to keep them going.

      I think your point is really important. I have some friends who have been incredibly successful with self-publishing – including some of my Bandita sisters who have dropped by here today – and for them it was the right decision and fulfilled their dreams.

      For me, my dream wasn’t about money (luckily LOL) but about having my books recognised and published by the industry. For me and my dream, to self-publish would be like proposing to yourself and buying your own ring. Luckily, as the marketplace has opened up for self-publishing, it has also opened up for innovative new presses – there are options for us all to achieve our dreams … as long as we work at it!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 4:39 pm
  15. Anna, mega congratulations on your sale!! I know how hard you worked and how very, very close you’ve been for a long time. I was so happy to hear you’d broken through, I cried.

    I think it always comes back to the work, doesn’t it? The thing you have to hold onto through it all is the joy of writing and that gets hard, many times. But this is only one step along the way for you. It’s like childbirth, I think–you soon forget the pain and struggle and step up to face the myriad new challenges that come with publication. The best of British to you! I’ll be cheering for you all the way.

    Posted by Christina Brooke | February 8, 2013, 4:23 pm
    • Aww thank you, Christina! I cried too!

      I think your analogy is a good one – I’d take it a step further and say that writing is like parenting (says she who doesn’t have children LOL) – you learn with the first and use that to help make things easier with the second etc. Of course, the second is nothing like the first, so you’re learning again! Just like writing!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 4:43 pm
  16. Hola, Banditas! It’s hard to remember that you all had to start someplace, too. I used to the Golden Heart was like a magic key, but I’ve since realized it’s a lot more complicated. Since you all have provided encouragement and inspiration for me since I first started attempting fiction, your books are always going to be on my keeper shelves.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 8, 2013, 4:30 pm
    • Indeed we did – 2006 was our GH year and for some of us it’s been a long, long road to that pink ribbon!

      The Golden Heart is an interesting thing, Becke. I know many successful authors who never finalled in the GH and many who have finalled multiple times who have yet to sell a book. So not finalling doesn’t mean you won’t sell. Equally, neither does finalling LOL.

      What I believe is that if you final in the GH, you know that your writing is of a certain standard. It’s comforting in those bad moments to know that your writing and your voice are good enough to sell – for whatever reason, you just haven’t hit the right perfect storm for a sale.

      We look forward to hosting in you in the Lair when you sell your first book, Becke!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 8, 2013, 4:50 pm
  17. What a great post, Anna! Thanks so much for sahring

    Posted by Angela Adams | February 8, 2013, 7:09 pm
  18. I meant “sharing.” (it’s been a long day with snow on the way).

    Posted by Angela Adams | February 8, 2013, 7:10 pm
  19. Anna, my friend, I stand alongside you on waiting a long time getting published. Only 22 years, but who is counting. I’ve always thought it was the journey and the wonderful friends you make along the way.

    I am so very, very proud of your great accomplishment and you can bet your story will be mine as soon as it is published. I can tease my son-in-law, you know – the one who likes that ‘other’ team in LA. One that something to do with ducks! ;)

    Enjoy the triumph and keep us posted on how you’re doing with edits and a cover. Huggles!

    Posted by Paisley Kirkpatrick | February 8, 2013, 10:24 pm
    • Marlene!!! As one of my wonderful writing friends, you made the journey a good one.

      Thank you, love. The pride goes both ways and you know I’m the first to buy your books! LOL he’ll hate it even more as it’s a NJ hockey team in my book (2003 was the best year!)

      I will definitely keep you all posted. Big hugs, my friend.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | February 9, 2013, 4:43 am
  20. Anna,

    Thank you for being our guest. We hope you’ll consider blogging with us again!

    Also, thanks to everyone who stopped by to comment!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 9, 2013, 8:28 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] From Romance University: Surviving ‘Nearly There’ with Anna Sugden [...]

  2. [...] The first article, entitled Surviving Nearly There, looks at how to get through what I think was the toughest part of my journey to publication. I provide some tips on things you might try – things I did! – to help keep going on the path towards achieving your dream. You can find Surviving Nearly There here. [...]

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