I have some really cool friends, don't I? Well, here's another one. I've known her for several years, but have only gotten to know her better more recently. Those of you who are Petticoats and Pistols fans have met her there. And if you haven't read Mary's blogs yet, or even her comments, then you're missing out because she keeps me in stitches. So now let's hear from Mary:
Cheryl was there at the beginning...
In college…a long, long time ago, I was a broadcast journalism major, so I studied writing and did a fair amount of it back then. I’ve always loved to write and remember writing a romance novel when I was about twelve. I started writing again, after Katy went to school.
At first it was just me, home, alone. It took me two years to find RWA (yes, I live in a cave) Then I found a ‘local’ chapter. I stress local because it was in Omaha. So ‘local’ meant an hour drive. I found this local chapter because of Cheryl St.John. There was some article in the World Herald about her and it mentioned the local RWA chapter, then called RAH.
I attended their meetings when I could. I hadn’t told anyone about this yet, except my husband Ivan and my daughters knew. Somewhere in about the third year, I send a manuscript into Harlequin Romance and they requested a full manuscript. This is a big deal because mostly when you submit your book…three chapters and a synopsis is all they want…and based on that, you get a form rejection. “Your book does not meet our needs at this time.” Which is nicer that what they really mean, which is “Your book stinks.”
From the time I sent the three chapters in, then their request for a whole manuscript, then finally their rejection, it took a full year. One of the reasons it’s really hard to talk about writing a book is that the publishing industry is painfully slow. How can you tell someone a bit of news, then six months later say, “Oh, remember when I said I sent that book in?”
Blank look. “No.”
“Well, they requested the rest of it.”
Then six months later you say, “Remember when that publisher requested my full manuscript?”
“Well, I got rejected today.”
No one can even remember what you sent in.
I couldn’t even remember I’d sent it. While I waited for that book to work its way through to Rejection City, I kept writing. By now I had maybe five books done.
I started entering contests. I kept doing better as the years went by. There came a time when I expected to final in any contest I entered. If you Google Mary Connealy Contest Diva there’s a website with a list of people who’ve won a lot of contests and I’m on it. I kept track for the last two or three years before I got a contract and I’d finalled in eleven contests with five different books. And all the while I’m entering these contests, I kept writing. I had maybe seven books done by now.
Through RWA I discovered ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). Through ACFW I joined an online critique group, and entered my manuscript Petticoat Ranch in ACFW’s Noble Theme contest. I was a double finalist in 2004, another book of mine, Montana Rose, was in the running, too. When I heard I was a finalist, along with the support and encouragement of the ACFW writer’s loop, I decided to attend the 2004 conference. I had never been on a plane before and I had never gone on vacation without my husband, Ivan, before. I don’t know if you can imagine the guts it took for me to go. Ivan was great about it. When I told him I wanted to go, spend all that money on my writing, he said, “You know, there’s a cattle show I want to go to. You go to your thing and I’ll go to mine.”
When you think about it. Me, saying to Ivan, “Honey, I want to fly to Denver and spend three days in a hotel with someone I met on the internet…well, he was a pretty good sport about letting me go. I also kept on writing and I was up around ten books.
Well, I won The Noble Theme contest and also placed third. I got a lot of requests at the conference to send in my book. I also got a really simple request from Cathy Marie Hake an author I didn’t know. She asked me to send her my first three chapters. She just wanted to see how I wrote.
I also had an agent looking at my work before this conference. He hadn’t offered to represent me, but he had expressed interest. When I emailed him to tell him I’d won the contest and tell him I received about fifteen requests from agents and editors for maybe five different books, he offered me a contract, so I got an agent, which is almost as hard as getting a book sold.
Cathy Marie Hake also kept in touch. She said she thought I was ‘ready’. No editor had yet seen that light, but Cathy’s encouragement kept me hoping. Plus, by this time, I had about twelve books and I’d had so many rejections I had a hide like a rhino, so submitting work didn’t even phase me.
Okay, well maybe I crawled under my computer desk and sucked my thumb for a day or two every time I got one but other than that I was fine.
Just before the next year’s conference, Cathy Marie Hake told me she wanted to pitch my name to write a book as part of a three book series set in historical Alaska. I worked on a proposal and talked on the phone with Cathy a lot before the 2005 conference.
Every year at the conference the acquiring editor for Heartsong Presents gives a contract to an unpublished author. I was so hopeful! I knew there was a chance it could be me. The Heartsong editor said someone else’s name and there’s only one, so okay, I’ve been rejected before. I kind of expect it. And then she said, “And this year we’re giving two contracts to first time authors. We’re offering a contract to Mary Connealy.” I get chills saying that! It was a wonderful, thrilling shocking moment. I had to go up and get the contract, in front of 350 other writers, all clapping. A great, great moment in my life.
I have since gotten eighteen more contracts from Barbour, nine of which are already written or I’d have never been able to make a commitment like that. And you might say I owe it all to that one little article featuring Cheryl St.John—well, that and writing non-stop for ten years. That helped, too.
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Note from Cheryl:
I'd love to take credit, but I think the ten years of hard work is what took you to where you dreamed of being. I was just one of the catalysts to show you it could be done. But you, like, REALLY got it done. Your story is amazing. Thanks for sharing with the readers.