First printed in May 2022 HeartsTalk, the newsletter of Romance Writers of Australia (reprinted with permission).

Every time I enter a competition I think, ‘this is it’.

I play with the idea that I final, and then I win, and then I deal with the acclaim. I’m modest. I admit to anyone who’ll listen—it’s taken time, I’ve worked hard. Then reality bites. I don’t final, so I don’t win.

Does that mean I’m not good enough to be published? Should I find another passion? Be true to yourself, the pundits say, write the kind of books you like to read.

Supportive friends insist you are good enough—why don’t you self-publish? Because I’m not remotely interested in self-promotion, social media and web pages. I want a publisher to do some of the work for me. Now, that is a problem because every publisher these days, large and small, requires their authors to take a hand in self-promotion and creating a brand. That’s a bullet you will have to bite. And perhaps I’m late to this party.

Sometimes after a knock back or two from publishers you tuck your manuscript in the bottom drawer and move on the next potential bestseller.

And all these elements—the tough but fair competition critique, the critique from the reader who clearly doesn’t get your style and makes sure you know it, the rejection from the editor who likes the premise, or the characters, but hates the presence of too-much-back-story-too-soon, or thinks you should try another publisher—combine to deflate your confidence. Self-confidence—that feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement. Words like self-possession, composure, poise, even nerve can be lost.

In 2020 I nerved myself to contact a competition judge. She’d given me a very encouraging wrap where others had scored me poorly, and I asked, through the competition coordinator, if the judge would be prepared to speak to me. I was thrilled when she said yes. More thrilled when I discovered Bronwyn Hall had won the Emerald in 2019 and was happy to share her approach with me. She sent her manuscript to every suitable publisher she could find and sold it. I’d sent my third place 2018 Emerald manuscript to one or two then stored it away with the hand-knitted winter socks.

Encouraged, I had another look at my manuscript, applied the skills I’ve been learning in the last few years and submitted to a US competition. I finaled—didn’t win—still the editor was interested in the full manuscript. Inkspell Publishing contracted my book Taylor’s Law and it’s due for release in July 2022. Inkspell has since contracted for the second book in the two-book series, Grace Under Fire—2019 Pacific Hearts Winner, which will be published in March 2023.

And a third stand-alone book Planting Hope, publication date July 2023. I’m both thrilled and apprehensive about the next steps, but I intend to take them.

I’ve written for years, had long gaps forced by workload or life or disappointment, but I couldn’t stop writing. I wish now I hadn’t taken those breaks. To be honest, part of the reason I stopped was also because colleagues and some family members bad-mouthed romance, not knowing I was writing romance. I couldn’t imagine telling them I was a romance author. In those years I toyed with the idea of a pseudonym. Now I’m using my own name, but protecting my privacy by using a graphic image to represent me, rather than an actual photograph, and limiting my social media exposure until I learn more.

A conversation with a stranger, a fellow member of RWA, and my confidence was boosted enough for me to risk another rejection on a manuscript I’d abandoned. So talk to people who share your passion for writing. They’re generous with their knowledge and support. Dreams can come true.

Jennifer will be at the 2022 RWA Fremantle Conference and is happy to chat. She’s also a finalist in the 2022 Emerald competition.

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