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Sara Walter Ellwood: Taking an Editor’s Advice

Heartsrtings coverThank you, Sarah, for having me here today to share with your readers my long road of rejections and revisions that led to my current contemporary western romance release, Heartstrings.

If you’re a writer and have submitted your work to editors and agents, you’ve undoubtedly had that work rejected. Rejection is never easy and it can take its toll on a writer, especially if the work you’re sending out is one of your first books. However, if you don’t let the rejections get you down—well not too much—and take the advice often freely given in those nasty letters, you might end up with an even better book. I know I did!

Back in the summer of 2009, I started shopping a book I’d titled “The Long Road Home” to agents and editors. It was roughly 87,000 words and my first western romance. I’d written fan fiction for years, but my first “publishable” book, meaning it was a totally original work, was a paranormal called A Hunter’s Angel. I’d decided to not publish this book and instead focus on my new love—contemporary western romance. (Although, a friend eventually talked me into publishing it—A Hunter’s Angel became my first published book, four years after it was first written.)

At first, I’d gotten nothing but form rejections for the western romance. I’d stew over them and took some classes through the RWA. I’d tweak the writing, making “The Long Road Home” better with each edit/revision. I eventually sent it to The Wild Rose Press. The editor had nothing but good things to say about the partial and wanted the full manuscript. At the same time, I finalled in my first contest—The East Texas RWA Southern Heat Contest. I was on top of the world.

Then the story was rejected. And for the first time, I discovered just how far that fall from the top of the world to the depths of devastation is. But I couldn’t ignore the good things the editor pointed out. The two-page rejection letter read more like a revisions letter and I took it as such. I was invited to resubmit, but instead, I sent the revised book to agents. At the same time as I received a request for a full from an agent, I won first place in the Southern Heat contest. Again, I was happy and loving life, until I got the revise/resubmit letter from the agent. She loved my writing and the story, but she thought it would fit a shorter book better. She wanted to send it to Harlequin American, but before I could do that I had to do some major rewriting.

For one thing, she thought I started the book in the wrong place. Which now with more experience under my belt, I know it did. I changed the beginning and cut about 20,000 words that needed to go. Changed the plot a bit to fit Harlequin and sent it back to the agent. I signed with her in the fall of 2010 and off to Harlequin American went “The Long Road Home.”

Three months later, I received the rejection. I was crushed. I bawled like I never have over a rejection. Then my agent told me she didn’t know where else to go with the book, since she didn’t submit to e-publishers. So, she released it back to me to do with what I wanted. I refused to believe the Harlequin editor, and without making one single change sent it off to Samhain and Carina Press.

HeartstingsTourAnd guess what, they both rejected the book. I made it all the way to acquisitions in both publishers, but in the end, they rejected the book. I was crushed AGAIN. I wasn’t given an invitation to resubmit, and may have been able too, but I ignored their reasons for rejecting it. Darn it! This was the way I wanted the story! I’d then sent the book back to that very first editor to read it, after all she had asked for a revise and submit—two years prior. I bypassed my current editor at The Wild Rose Press, since she’d never read the book and it is also in a different genre than my paranormals which are published there. She agreed to read the book again. And still came back with a similar rejection to the very first time.

What the heck!? I’d changed the book! I’d made the story better! Then, I realized her problems with the story echoed the editors at Harlequin, Carina and Samhain. They liked the premise of the story—two friends who at different times were lovers with the same female friend. Loved my hero, but found issues with the heroine who lied to both her dead husband and the hero (the real father of her daughter). They also didn’t like the secret baby plotline. (Is it still called a secret baby when the child is fourteen?)

I refused to think this story was dead. I loved my characters too much. Then I reevaluated the rejections and really took into account what the four editors found wrong with the story: the heroine’s lies and the secret baby plot. Okay, what if I took the secret out of the baby—at least among the three who really need to know (the hero, heroine and the heroine’s husband)? Now, how could I make the heroine’s actions more justified? How could I make her more heroic? Then I got to thinking about the motivations, goals and conflicts of all the characters—and made some major, and I mean MAJOR changes. One of the most significant, besides totally re-characterizing the heroine, was the heroine’s dead husband in “The Long Road Home” became the ex-husband and the villain in Heartstrings. I also cut out characters and subplots that were no longer supported by the new main plot.

In the end, I had a whole new novel born out of the ashes of the old one. I LOVE this book now. I love Abby’s struggles with her parents’ sins, the small-town prejudice she encounters because she’s a Native American, and her own past which motivated her to do what she did. (She’s a totally different character, with her name and being a nurse about the only things that remained after the rewrite.) I love Seth for his messed up childhood with an abusive father who never wanted him to become a singer (which is about the only thing that remained the same in all the versions). And I even love to hate Mike who rose from the dead (well not literally, but he was dead in all the previous versions of the story) to become a true dirtbag.

I guess the moral to this story is a simple one. As bad as rejection can be, a writer must look at each informative rejection as an opportunity to grow and to make a book better. I remember reading a blog about Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help, when her bestselling novel was released as a movie. She said that over the course of her sixty-some rejections, she would use the comments to make changes to the story. If she could see the point of the editor/agent rejecting the story and agreed with it, she would incorporate their suggestions into the story. I guess her perseverance paid off.

I’m not saying every editor/agent is right. After all, it is your story and you know it better than anyone else, but industry professionals know the business. Especially editors. They know what will sell at their house and what might not. I value their hard work, and their opinions. Of course this attitude had to grow on me; I didn’t always have it.

So, what become of my next batch of submissions after totally rewriting “The Long Road Home” and turning it into Heartstrings? I participated in a blog pitch where I was offered a contract. I’d also sent the book to Lyrical Press and Crimson Romance. I’d declined the contract offered to me from the blog pitch and pulled my full submission from Crimson when I accepted Lyrical’s offer. So, I guess, my perseverance and taking the advice given in rejections paid off, too…

Heartsrtings coverHeartstrings

He’s determined to set things right, no matter the cost.

The last person Abby Crawford wants to face down is country music superstar Seth Kendall. Last time she did, she flat-out lied so he’d go to Nashville without her. She’s never understood why their mutual best friend proposed, but she went with it so her baby wouldn’t be fatherless. Now she’s a divorced mother of a teenager, and secretly Seth’s biggest fan.

Seth is home in McAllister, Texas for his father’s funeral…and a chance to meet the daughter he’s never known. He’s willing to face the music of his own making and admit he’s known about his little girl all along. For fifteen years he’s kept his distance because Abby told him to follow his dreams without her, insisting she didn’t love him. But now he won’t leave until he knows his daughter and she knows him, even if it means facing the woman who broke his heart for good.

Confessing she’s lied about her daughter’s paternity all these years won’t be easy for Abby, especially with her ex blackmailing her to keep the secret. And Seth doesn’t know the hardest truth of all: Every love song he plays on his guitar still plucks her heartstrings.


Learn more & buy @ Lyrical Press | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iTunes

Heartstrings | excerpt

Seth leaned in. His lips were close enough to kiss, and his scent of sandalwood and something exotic enveloped her, taking her back to that night on the beach. His eyes flashed with the dangerous fire of his temper. It was similar to the flame of the passion she’d once seen in the green depths. Abby didn’t expect or want the heat curling in her belly, and shivered with a sudden and fierce desire.

“I’m her father, Abigail. I wanted to be her father after she was born. It was you and Mike who insisted I had no business messing things up.”

“I never said any such thing. You never tried. You just left.”

He pounded a fist on the counter top so hard she jumped. “Yes, I left! I wasn’t welcome at home. Dad ran me off with a shotgun. Mike wouldn’t even let me see my daughter. He made it quite clear you and he were happily married, and I had no place in your life. I was under contract to be in Nashville to start recording my first album.”

What did he mean, Mike wouldn’t let him see Emily?

Before she had a chance to voice her question, his eyes darkened as the pupils dilated, obscuring the stormy green. “But I’m no longer nineteen and scared shitless. I could make things very rough for you and this fantasy you’ve got working.”

A cold lump quickly replaced the tangle of heat in her belly. “What-what do you mean?”

He backed off and tapped the countertop. “I’m talking a custody battle. I could have a judge order a paternity test. I think we both know the media hoopla the results would cause.”

Her heart slammed into her chest wall. “You wouldn’t do that.”

“Try me. Now that I’ve met Emily, I want to get to know her.” He walked over to look out the kitchen window. The hard line of his jaw melted, and he swallowed so hard his throat moved up and down. “I was a fool when I let Mike talk me out of being in her life after she was born.”

“What do you mean?”

He glanced at her. “Don’t pretend you don’t know.”

The strings of guitar music provided a soft counterpoint to the hard tension in the kitchen. Emily was outside on the patio playing around with her guitar, waiting for them to finish with the dishes she and Seth had insisted on doing.

“All I want is to have some time with my daughter. That’s all I’m asking for.” When he looked over his shoulder at her, sadness replaced the anger in his eyes. “I’ll keep your little secret. I’ll just be her favorite singer. The family friend who made it big in Nashville. I don’t want to hurt her. As much as it galls the hell out of me, I see what Mike means to her.”

He moved toward her and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “Besides, I don’t want to hurt Carolann or Frank any more than you do.” He glanced outside again, his voice husky as he spoke. “But I’ll sue you if I have to.”

A part of her wanted to give in to him, but a larger part wanted to punish him. Let him take her to court; she’d make sure the world knew what kind of jerk Seth Kendall really was.

She gritted her teeth and fisted her hands by her sides. “I’ll let you have tonight, Seth. But don’t ask for more.”

She turned away and strode through the French doors.

Learn more & buy @ Lyrical Press | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iTunes

Sara head shotSara Walter Ellwood

Sara Walter Ellwood is an award winning author whose novel Gambling On A Secret was named by bestselling author Carolyn Brown in the Happy Ever After Blog on USA Today as one of her favorite romances of 2012. Although Sara has long ago left the farm for the glamour of the big town, she draws on her experiences growing up on a small hobby farm in West Central Pennsylvania to write her stories. She’s been married to her college sweetheart for nearly 20 years, and they have two teenagers and one very spoiled rescue cat named Penny. She longs to visit the places she writes about and jokes she’s a cowgirl at heart stuck in Pennsylvania suburbia.

She also writes paranormal romantic suspense under the pen name of Cera duBois.

Author links:  Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


***Please leave your email address to be eligible***

~~I will be giving away two ebook copies of Heartstrings at the end of each week of the tour, so make sure you leave your email address.

~Tour Grand Prize is a swag pack full of goodies! A signed copy of Carolyn Brown’s Just a Cowboy and His Baby, an ebook copy of my last release Gambling On A Secret, a notebook, a pen, custom jewelry set, $5 Starbuck’s gift card—all tucked into a keepsake box. (Sorry, only US residents are eligible. Comparable International Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card.) *Swag pack (gift card) is for the entire two-month tour. Winner will be announced on June 1, 2013