Contests are SO subjective, and I’ve spent a lifetime reminding myself I’m not in competition with my peers. Where there are winners, there are necessarily losers, and I believe it often sends the wrong message to writers who are providing readers a labor of their love. However, every once in a while, when my publisher has entered a contest, or, when readers, booksellers and reviewers have nominated my books, I’m a little more apt to see where it goes. I’ve been so very lucky in my career to be nominated for MANY, MANY awards, but like Susan Lucci, I’m ever the bridesmaid and never the bride… let’s see how it goes this time. Plus, this is a brand new kind of book for me, and so thank you SO MUCH to those who nominated The King’s Favorite for a Top Shelf Award. You rock, whoever you are!
The industry drama continues, of course, but part of the overall scandal has to do with “what constitutes an author.” For me, that has a very straightforward answer. But before I get to that, let me tell you guys a quick story…
Once upon a time, Fabio “wrote” a book. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s that long-haired swoon-generating model who once graced hundreds of romance covers. The powers that be decided he had name recognition and wanted to capitalize on that, so they hired a ghostwriter, who was not named on the book (as far as I can remember). Pretty much the entire industry knew these books were ghostwritten, and most readers who followed the Italian model knew he could barely throw three English words together. They understood it was a gimmick and that the book was ghostwritten. Some people bought it and didn’t care; some wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. In the end, I believe Fabio had two romance novels with his name on it. (You might still be able to find these in used bookstores.)
So is Fabio a writer/author? HELL NO. Was it illegal? Nope. Do I think the ghostwriter (who shall rename nameless at this point, at least by me) was “wrong” to accept the assignment? No. She was making a living and they offered her a job and she took it. Do I believe the publishers were wrong to handle this the way they did? Absolutely. Because I believe it disrespects the reader. However, they are also not authors; they are publishers and our bottom-lines are far different. Theirs = Money. Mine = Love of My Craft.
There are a lot of decisions I make as an author that I make for love of my craft. I wake up every day, sit at my computer for eight-plus hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year, give or take a few sick days, and vacations. Given this, I feel pretty strongly that someone who hires ghostwriters and does not give a byline to their co-author is at the very least not being fair or transparent to someone who made “their” work possible. That said, I don’t live in anyone else’s shoes (or head) and only they can determine what they can live with. Ultimately, I had/have ZERO interest in reading “Fabio’s” books, even though I highly respected the true “author.” On principle, I didn’t buy these books or read them. Things like humor and voice are simply not interchangeable, they are subtle and precious and can actually be edited out by a heavy-handed editor. Ultimately, as a reader, I follow authors, whose voices I love.
In the end, I believe ghostwriters can be authors (but not necessarily), while people who hire ghostwriters to write 70 to 100 percent (pulled this figure out of my hat; don’t ask me where to draw the line, because
I often cringe when I’m asked about my first sale, because it was just too easy, and the telling of this story only adds to my worst fears that, somehow, I must be a fraud. Why? Because, unlike so many of my fellow authors, who endured four-hundred plus rejections, I sold my very first book to the very first publisher we submitted to.
Of course, I didn’t believe it would be that easy. I’m a classic “plan for the worst, hope for the best” personality—all while secretly fearing the worst is what’s really going to happen.
I bought one-hundred manuscript boxes (yes, really, 100) and put them ALL together. They used to come flattened back in the Dark Ages. And just to get it out of the way, I finished them all—because, of course, I knew I would need every bloody one. So there they were, all stacked in my office/playroom wall, with my desk/old dining room table surrounded by Lego’s and Playskool toys—and, of course, children, who occasionally enjoyed knocking them all down. I mean, who can pass that up? It’s like sandcastles or houses of cards. That’s what they were really made for, to knock them all down. Right?
But here’s the best part and I’ll give you the short version: I printed off three chapters I liked best (WRONG, you’re supposed to send the first three chapters), and then sent them to ten agents and hired the first one who called (WRONG, you’re supposed to be patient, wait, and choose the best). So my first agent (Surprise! There were others) asked who I wished to submit to, and I figured, hey, why not? Let’s start at the tippity-top and get turned down by my entire Wish List before settling. Of course, I chose Avon Books, then owned by William Morrow Publishing, and, somehow, despite having done everything completely wrong, Editor Maggie Lichota called, and I said yes. That was thirty years ago next year (November of 1989). And that book was Angel of Fire, published in 1992.
I can’t say I never feel like a fraud anymore, because that’s just not true. The difference is that, after thirty plus books (and counting), and a precious lot of loyal readers, I figure that maybe I don’t suck. But it still feels too easy, because I’m doing what I love, and there’s nothing in the world I’d rather be doing.
I was fortunate through my early years in the industry, in that I had a great editor (Lyssa Keusch, who inherited me after Maggie left Avon) who believed in me. She encouraged me to write the stories I was on fire for, and if there’s one piece of advice I have for aspiring writers, it is: Write what you love. And, be ready to persevere. Truly, though I wasn’t tested through first-sale rejections, the industry has a way of testing our resolve. The good news is that there’s never been a better time to be a writer, or a reader, with so many fresh reads. And, in that vein, I hope you’ll enjoy A Winter’s Rose—a bit of a departure for me.
Happy Holidays, my dear friends!
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