Susanna Fraser is the author of the delightful The Sergeant’s Lady, which is her first novel. Her hilarious website is here, which has gotten her attention from all over the place. She also has a much more traditional blog, and she is quite active on Facebook.
When Tia invited me to be a guest at Debuts & Reviews, she suggested I talk about my journey to “The Call” and what I learned along the way. I’m happy to do so, even though that journey took some scenic routes I never expected when I first started writing.
I wrote my first draft of the manuscript that became The Sergeant’s Lady back in 2005, and I loved writing it. It was my second manuscript, so I had the confidence of knowing I could finish a book to spur me forward. The research fascinated me, especially building a backstory for Will to cover every step of his army career before he met Anna. And most of all I loved Will and Anna as characters, and I knew I had something special in them and their story.
I was still new enough to writing to think that would be enough, and that selling The Sergeant’s Lady would be easy despite the unusual setting and hero. Surely I wasn’t the only one craving something different, and surely at least one editor out there would feel the same way.
I tried. I really did. I found an agent in 2006, and she submitted the manuscript extensively to print publishers. I got a lot of compliments on my writing, a lot of comments, positive and negative, on how different the story was…and nothing but refusals on the manuscript.
Once The Sergeant’s Lady finished making the rounds, I concluded that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a romance writer after all. I set the manuscript I’d written in 2006 aside. (You’ll get to see it in 2011 if you’re interested; it’s called A Marriage of Inconvenience, and it’s a Sergeant’s Lady prequel with Anna’s brother James as the hero.) My agent and I parted ways amicably, and I spent 2007-09 working on an alternative history manuscript.
That was my biggest mistake on the journey to publication, by the way. Not switching genres–I love fantasy and romance equally, and I hope to be published in both someday. But sticking with a book through three years and four major drafts was a wrongheaded. I was so convinced that the alternative history was the best idea I’d ever have in my life, and also that I had to sell that story to prove I wasn’t a failure and was meant to be a writer after all. Selling the next story wasn’t good enough, and nor was going back to my romances and trying to sell them, even though I could see that the historical market was shifting and there might be a home for stories that had been too different to sell just a few years before. I’m only a year removed from that mentality, but I can’t explain it. I had crazy ideas then. I’m better now.
It’s too late for me to get those years back, and I don’t regret everything about them. I learned a lot trying to write that book, among other things that I enjoy writing the character type the TV Tropes Wiki calls the Four-Star Badass (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FourStarBadass). That book’s alternative-universe Wellington may never see the light of day, but there will be others like him. Oh my, yes, there will be others like him, and if I do my job right, you’ll think they’re sexy.
But still. Don’t make my mistake. Know when to cut your losses. One serious, start-over-from-scratch rewrite is the most you want to do for any single story. If it’s still not right, start something else. That story will still be there if you decide to go back to it later. And it’s not the only good idea you’ll ever have. Trust me. I’m full of ideas now that I’m no longer so stubbornly sure I’ve already found The Only One.
Anyway. Fast-forward to early 2010. By then I was trying to sell my alternative history, but getting rejection letters with head-spinning speed. Discouraged and not even sure what to write next, since the plan had been to SELL the alternative history and get right to work on its sequel, I pulled out The Sergeant’s Lady and re-read it.
And I realized that it was good. It’d been long enough since I’d written it that it was almost like reading someone else’s book–and I couldn’t put it down. So I decided to give it one more chance.
I didn’t want to submit it to any editors who’d already read it, but there were a few houses my agent hadn’t submitted to back in 2006–including the ones that didn’t exist yet, like Carina. Back then I never would’ve considered an e-publisher. I’d heard too many stories of authors getting burned by fly-by-night publishers, and besides, the market only seemed viable for erotic stories.
But four years is forever in technological terms, and by 2009 I had a Kindle myself, plus a good sense of which companies were viable and which seemed dodgy. Carina, with Harlequin’s backing, struck me as the best choice of all, so I submitted to them first.
Six months later, here I am. Published in the genre I thought would never want me, with the book I’d given up on. This industry will take you on a strange journey if you’ll let it.
Susanna will be hanging around if you have any comments or questions. I know I have a few, which I’ll post in the comments to get things started.