A Home Run First Time at Bat?
(December 24, 2001)
Nicole Burnham’s Going to the Castle is not only her debut romance, it received Desert Isle Keeper Status. We thought it would be interesting to hear first-hand her experiences in being published. For more discussion on the series romances of Harlequin/Silhouette, be sure to read the December 15th issue of At the Back Fence wherein LLB and I present rather differing views on the sub-genre.
Linda Hurst: Nicole, as you have just published your first category book for Harlequin/Silhouette, can you walk us through the process you went through to actually get into print?
Nicole Burnham: I’d love to! The first manuscript I sold was actually the third one I wrote. I wrote two manuscripts targeted to Harlequin Intrigue. Both were rejected, but the rejection letters were – fortunately – quite detailed. The editor basically told me that she loved my voice, thought the romance was quite strong, but that I had zero talent for writing suspense. Okay, she said it in a much nicer way than that, but both letters boiled down to, “Write a straight romance, not a romantic suspense, and you might have something.”
So, I swallowed my pride and put those first two manuscripts aside, as well as two other romantic suspense manuscripts I had halfway done, and started a whole new book without an ounce of suspense in it. When I finished, I met with Gail Chasan, a Silhouette editor, at the RWA National Conference in Washington, D.C., and pitched the new book. She asked me to send it in, and she bought it six weeks later! Needless to say, I was thrilled.
Linda: Is an agent necessary to reach Harlequin?
Nicole: Not at all – I didn’t have an agent when I sold my first book. If you write the kind of story they’re looking for, they’re going to buy it no matter what. I have an agent now, but I know dozens of Harlequin and Silhouette authors who are unagented and have wonderful careers. So it’s certainly not necessary.
Linda: Were the guidelines for each series a problem or interfere with your creative juices? Was the editing process painless?
Nicole: I think with any Harlequin or Silhouette line, they want authors to capture the ‘tone’ of the line. Once you can do that, you can write just about anything. So no, I didnt have a problem with the guidelines.
Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about – Going to the Castle, was partially set in a refugee camp. It opened with the heroine digging a latrine. Not what you think of when you pick up a category romance! Despite the unique setting, it sold. That’s because at it’s core, it’s a Cinderella story, and it captured the uplifting ‘tone’ of Silhouette Romance.
As for editing – I got lucky. I had very few revisions on my first book. My editor has the second book now, so we’ll see what happens with that. I’m crossing my fingers!
Linda: Is it true one won’t get rich on a category book?
Nicole: What, didn’t I give you a tour of my mansion? The grounds and stables? Introduce you to the staff? (Cough, cough.)
No, you won’t get rich writing category. If you want to make a living – enough money to pay your rent, feed your family, and hopefully send your kids to college – you’ll need to write at least two and probably three books a year. And even then, you won’t make that money right away. It can take up to two years from the time your book is purchased until it hits the shelves, and several months after that before you see any royalties. So until you’ve got a pipeline of books coming out and have a sense of what you’re going to earn over the long haul (and it varies widely from author to author), my advice is to keep your day job!
Linda: What do you have coming next?
Nicole: My second book will be out in early 2003 – it’s a spinoff of Going to the Castle and will be about Prince Antony’s younger (and wilder!) brother, Prince Stefano. Someone needs to get him in line, and I’ve got just the woman for the job! A story about Stefano and Antony’s oh-so-perfect sister, Princess Isabella, is also planned for 2003. All the details will be on my website, www.nicoleburnham.com.