Harlequin Desire Author Sarah M. Anderson Goes Back to Her Roots…

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Sarah M. Anderson

So many Harlequin authors are incredibly versatile and can turn their hands from sweet to sexy, from emotional to action-packed and everything in between. Happily, here at Harlequin we can find something to suit most authors–and readers! So here’s Harlequin Desire author Sarah M. Anderson to tell what’s new in her repertoire! 

I’m so excited to announce that I sold my female bull rider book, Rodeo Dreams, to Superromance!

You may well wonder how I, a Harlequin Desire author, came to sell a book to Superromance.

Would you be surprised if I told you that the saga stretches over six years? And that Rodeo Dreams predates any Desire book I wrote by at least two years? Or would you be surprised that one of my first rejections of Rodeo Dreams was by my current editor, the fabulous senior editor Stacy Boyd—the very same fabulous Stacy Boyd who bought Rodeo Dreams for Superromance?

All of these things are true. Selling Rodeo Dreams is a good example of perseverance. It’s also a heck of a story!

Let’s begin at the beginning (where else?). I wrote what was then called His Rodeo June back over the winter months of 2008 and into 2009. I had an agent I was working with and she liked His Rodeo June a lot, so she sent it out after some revisions. This was during the spring and into the summer of 2009.

I got rejections. Lots of rejections. I didn’t appreciate it at the time—I wanted to sell that first book so badly—but I got a lot of really good rejections. I was disappointed, then I was crushed.

One of the early rejections was from Stacy. Here’s what she had to say:

 “My biggest concern is that the hero and heroine’s voices are both very downbeat and negative. They both show a lot of anger and intolerance, which isn’t balanced with the kind of emotional motivation (and hence a possibility for reformation) that our readers like to see. Also, the romance doesn’t feel central to the plot. The displays of anger and the hero’s impotence aren’t balanced with a sensual or emotional spark.”

Ouch. After fifteen or twenty of those, we decided to put His Rodeo June aside. It was an incredibly painful decision, but I write very fast and I had other books we could try with.

But remember how I said this was a good rejection? Here’s the rest of what Stacy said:

 “Sarah has a very passionate writing style, and I found both the characters and premise to be intriguing…Thank you again for letting me review it. Sarah has talent, and I’d love to see more from her, if the romance was strong.”

At the time, all I saw was the No. It hurt like hell.

But I wrote. And I wrote. And I wrote some more. I wrote another five books after His Rodeo June. A few were pretty bad. Some were pretty good. A year and a half passed. I got more rejections, but my writing got stronger.

In the meantime, Stacy was going places. In 2010, she was promoted to Senior Editor of Harlequin Desire. Desire hadn’t acquired many new authors and one of her tasks was to change that.

At almost the same time, I wrote a book I called Indian Princess. It was different from what I’d been writing—shorter, with less secondary characters and a wealthy hero.

It wound up on Stacy’s desk. And she read it because she remembered me from the previous year. And wouldn’t you know it, a shorter book with a rich hero was exactly what she was looking for.

Thus began a long and fruitful editorial relationship. A Man of His Word was publishing in Dec. 2011 and we’ve just kept going. Stacy has patiently guided me through the Desire-ification of my writing and pushed me to be a better author. I feel confident saying this because our second book together, A Man of Privilege, won the RT Book Reviewer’s Desire of the Year for 2012!

But about that rodeo book, you say? I’m getting to it.

The summer of 2012, I found myself with a little free time. I had a month before I had to start on my next contracted book for Desire. And I decided to dig out His Rodeo June. I still believed in that book and I’d learned so much since it’d been rejected the first time.

I went back and read every single rejection. This time, instead of disappointment, I noticed what all those editors had taken the time to say—angry characters, not enough romance. I re-discovered that Stacy had rejected it—honestly, I had forgotten she’d read it.

I started revising. I tossed the last two chapters, made several backstory changes, and upped the romance by a LOT. I also took to Twitter and started talking about how tone can make or break a book, how good rejections are helpful and how gosh-darn funny it was that my beloved editor had rejected it.

Guess who was on Twitter, following along from home? That’s right. Stacy.

She said, (I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the tweets, but you’ll get the idea) “Is that the female rodeo rider? I remember that book.” Which stunned me—it’d been almost 3 years since she’d said “No”. When I asked her if she really remembered His Rodeo June, she said, “I remember all the books I like.” She then said that if I’d fixed the book, she’d like to see it again.

Done. There were a flurry of emails between my editor and my agent. That August, 2012, we sent His Rodeo June off to Stacy for the second time.

She read it. She loved it (again). She had a long list of changes she wanted to see, but she thought it’d be a good Superromance if I could find the right tone (again with the tone!). But I had to get back to work on my contracted Desires, so it sat.

In March of 2013, we picked it back up. More revisions, more revision notes. I kept saying, “How much more is there to fix in this book?” and then I’d get a three-page list of notes from Stacy.

We had to set it down again for a few more months—I had a Desire that needed a total rewrite. But in the fall of 2013, I began to bug her. Where are we? Where’s the book at?

More revision notes. More revisions. More revision notes. EVEN MORE REVISIONS.

Finally, we were approaching the Christmas break this past December. We pushed through—we both wanted this book off our to-do lists over the holidays. I gave the book back to Stacy, she read it again, made (you guessed it!) more notes, but said it was almost there and she was going to try to buy it. Stacy then sent it to Wanda Ottewell, the senior editor for Superromance to see if Wanda agreed.

On January 10th, 2014, Stacy tweeted that she was going to make the call she’d been waiting YEARS to make.

She bought His Rodeo June, now known as Rodeo Dreams. It’ll be published by Superromance in August, 2014.

I cried, I’m not going to lie. I’d been hoping, praying and revising that book for five and a half years.

And then I got back to work because—believe it or not—there were a FEW MORE REVISIONS and with an Aug. 2014 pub date, suddenly a book that had taken years to develop had to be done very, very quickly.

What’s the take-away here?

 Never give up. Never Surrender!

 Revision is where good books are made.

 An editor who likes your voice and appreciates your talent while pushing you to be better all the time is worth at least five times her weight in gold and a Really Nice Christmas Present.

 Good rejections really are gifts. Thank the editors who take the time to explain why they said No. Then apply those suggestions to your work.

 Do not burn your bridges. The publishing world is actually small(ish).

So that’s it! Publishing is a strange business. If Stacy hadn’t read and rejected Rodeo Dreams all those years ago, she might not have read my other book, A Man of His Word, when it crossed her desk and we might not be where we are today.

So remember that, above all else, sometimes a No is just a Not Quite Yet Yes.

 

Remember one of those times the revisions got put aside for a contracted title? Well, one of those was What a Rancher Wants, part of the latest Texas Cattleman’s Club continuity. Go get it right now! And don’t forget to come back in August for RODEO DREAMS!

You can find out more about Sarah at her website, and on Twitter where she’s @SarahMAnderson1 

Meanwhile, check out the Desire and Superromance writing guidelines to see the difference in tones and needs, and check out @Stacy_Boyd or follow #HarlequinDesire and HarlequinSuperromance

Now get busy writing–and revising!

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Comments

  1. What an amazing story, Sarah! I feel the way you felt about His Rodeo June about Pleasure’s Payne (my SYTYCW entry). I’ve been playing with that idea and the hero/heroine for years, writing and rewriting and revising. Hopefully it can be a Love Inspired one day. In the meantime, I’ve had interest in a romantic suspense that is nowhere near the same tone. I know I’ll get back to it, though.

    I love how you never gave up on your story. I also love that you have managed to craft books for two very different lines. It takes real talent and perseverance to do that. I love your Desire releases and can’t wait to read the Super. Many congratulations and all the best in the future!

    ~Erica (@2blu2btru on twitter)

    • Sarah M. Anderson

      Hi Erica!

      Let it be said–there ARE books I’ve written that cannot be saved. I don’t want anyone to construe this as ‘every book is publishable’. But for me, this was a labor of love. I never gave up on this baby!

      Thanks so much!
      Sarah

  2. Stacy Boyd

    Sarah, I had to get a tissue for this one! Your willingness to go the extra mile in revisions, and in patience, always impresses me. I was so excited about finally buying Rodeo Dreams it made my whole work week! I love that your second book received the RT award for best Desire; you worked really hard on that one, too. And I also love that your last two Desire novels broke the Top 100 Fiction bestseller list on Bookscan. All that work is paying off! Thank you for letting me be your partner in creating great stories. *hugs*

  3. Amy Woods

    Awesome story, Sarah!

    For some reason, I love stories about monumental revisions and total rewrites. Perhaps it’s because, as a newbie, I find it comforting that even for successful authors, there is no perfect book the first go round. 😉 How lucky we are to have such wonderful editors to help us shape them into beautiful things.

    Very best wishes on your first Super!

    Amy

    • Sarah M. Anderson

      Hi Amy,

      I’ve had one book out of…16? that Stacy was like, It’s Almost Perfect! And it was such a shock not to get the big revision letter that I almost didn’t believe her. But you know what? The very next book came with a massive revision letter (that I’m just about to crack open). So even us multi-published authors who have written ‘perfect’ drafts will STILL get revisions.

      Good luck!
      Sarah

    • Sarah M. Anderson

      Hi Sheila,

      There are leaps of faith. Stacy grits her teeth and says, “O…Kay…” when I go, “I can make this work. It’ll be great, PROMISE!” And when she orders the rewrite, I trust that she can see things I’m missing. So yeah, I do trust her! *shines award I won after Stacy ordered a near-total rewrite*

      🙂
      Sarah

  4. Carol Opalinski

    Sarah, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think all struggling writers can benefit from your story.

    And thanks again for the wonderful and informative week in the forums when you did “What To Expect When You’re Revising”.

    I’ll be looking forward to Rodeo Dreams as well as all your future Desires!

    • Sarah M. Anderson

      Hi Carol!

      I was just looking back over that forum–man, we covered a LOT of ground, didn’t we? I should do another one…

      But yeah, I think the big take-away here is that even published authors struggle. There’s no magic formula but hard work!

      Sarah

  5. Mary-Theresa

    And I think one of the best take-aways is that Sarah gritted her teeth, put it away, sold other books, worked on it, worked on others and kept balancing what she learned on each new book with what was so special here.

    I do cheer on the authors who are persistent with their book of their heart projects–but I also love the authors who are able to work on other projects in the meantime and move forward in their career.

    Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to let a project go. Just remember that letting it go–for now!–doesn’t mean that you can’t return at some point to see how to make it right!

  6. Stephanie Scott

    Very cool story, and inspiring given my current state of agent edits 🙂 I’m also curious and intrigued to read about a female rodeo rider, so I’ll keep my eye out for your release in August.

    • Sarah M. Anderson

      Hi Elle,

      Glad to help! I hope you check out that forum I linked to above–and feel free to look me up on Twitter! I’m happy to randomly dispense advice!

      Sarah

  7. Katherine

    Thank you for sharing this — it’s such a balanced look at the work that comes with revisions and an inspiration to stick with something you feel passionately about even after facing some rejection!

  8. Andrea Laurence

    It’s funny how things work out. The first book I sent to Shana got a rejected in 2010. That same book (with a massive re-write) is on shelves with Harlequin Desire this month. For a while I didn’t think that book would ever make it into the world. That’s why I dedicated the book to Shana. She stuck it out and coached me through the rounds of drama to see the light of day!

    Congrats on a female bull rider. She sounds awesome.

  9. Kat Cantrell

    Love this story. It’s so much better than the abbreviated version I got previously. 🙂 How thrilling that the book of your heart is *finally* going to be read and loved by readers!! It inspires me to clean up my first rejected manuscript. Can’t wait till August!

  10. I’m amazed at how many times the book was sent back and forth and not once did your editor say “It’s not going to work after all”.
    She had to see ‘something’ each time to have faith that everything would work out in the end.

    Bravo to both of you to not throwing in the towel.

  11. I’d be one of those aspiring writers Jayne mentioned.

    I love this post, Sarah, because just yesterday I had a mind-blowing realization in terms of my WIP. I struggle with the usual insecurity and my low self-esteem is to blame for not completing a story thus far, and having more than a dozen half-finished projects…

    But then I framed the whole process like this: starting a story = starting a journey. A journey that might end in publication (fingers crossed!) or end in having to shelf the work to make room for another story. Rinse + repeat.

    Finishing a first draft really is just the beginning. In this case, the beginning of a whole lot of revisions (and possibly a long list of rejections).

    So now I have to keep reminding myself that I’m going to sit down for the long haul. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    • Sarah M. Anderson

      Hi Hana,

      You’re so right–that 1st draft is just the beginning. That’s something I didn’t get before I was published, but now? I really get it!

      Keep writing!
      Sarah