THE DETAILS OF VIRNA’S WRITING JOURNEY
FROM BEGINNING HER FIRST STORY TO
GETTING HER FIRST SALE
3 years, 2 months, 12 days
Four Years Of National RWA Dues: $340
Four Years Of Membership In Five Local RWAChapters: $500
Over 50 Local RWA Chapter Meetings: $1000
Three National RWA Conferences Attended: $3000
10 Local RWA Chapter Retreats or Conferences Attended: $4000
Two Local Chapter Contests Entered (Placed Second In One): $50
Three Golden Heart Entries (Never Finaled): $150
CDs From Two Prior National Conferences Ordered: $150
One Group Blog Launched: $500
One Website Designed And Launched: $500
Various Domain Names Purchased: $200
Five Full Manuscripts Requested – Several Snail Mailed: $50
Ten Online Classes/Workshops Registered For: $500
Various Agent, Editor, Author Critiques & Networking Opps Purchased via Auctions: $2000
Approximate Total: $13000
GETTING THE CALL FROM MY AGENT THAT I SOLD: PRICELESS
BUT Getting to that sale didn’t come without an emotional
price and personal sacrifice.
BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS:
--4 full single title manuscripts written
--2 full category manuscripts written
--5 proposals written
--1 NanoWriMo almost completed
--2 board positions for local RWA chapter served
--6 in person pitches to editors
--4 in person pitches to agents
--8 email queries to agents
--2 editors who loved one of my manuscripts and would
have bought but ultimately couldn’t
--2 offers of representation by agents
--1 agent switch
--40 submissions to editors via agent
--34 rejections by editors via agent
--Many friends made
--Some friends lost
--Challenges to personal relationships encountered
--35 pounds gained
After years of dreaming about writing a novel, I
decided to email a writer who was an acquaintance of a
friend of mine. This writer was local and published. I
figured I’d simply ask her some questions about the
business. She graciously agreed to meet with me.
When I met the writer I’d emailed, I explained that I
didn’t think I could write within the confines of the “rules”
romance required. She looked puzzled and told me there
aren’t any rules. All you do, she said, is sit down and write
the story in your head.
Later, she invited me to an event by her local
chapter of Romance Writers Of America (RWA). It was a
reader’s luncheon. I sat at her table. I listened to the
speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, tell an
inspiring story about persevering despite years of rejection.
Eventually, I struck up a conversation with someone sitting
across from me. She invited me to join her critique group.
Later, at a book signing, I met other writers and saw for
myself they were all “ordinary” people, with kids, jobs,
I joined that crit group and connected with the
women right away. I felt “at home.” I started thinking
about my story and began writing regularly, even if it
meant writing at two o’clock in the morning.
WHAT I LEARNED:
You don’t have to be single, be independently
wealthy, or quit your day job to write, nor do you need to
have majored in creative writing. To write, all you need is
to sit down and write your story. Of course, you need the
drive to work hard, the support to logistically do it, and the
willingness to ask for help and learn from the experience of
After meeting with my new crit partners several
times, I found I thrived with constructive criticism and that
I enjoyed giving feedback on other’s stories. I’d already
written a couple of chapters when my crit partners told me
about NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National
Novel Writing Month. Every November, writers across the
world commit to writing 50,000 new words in the month of
November. The main goal is to keep writing forward, not
worrying about whether your writing is “good” or not.
Encouraged by my crit partners and knowing I wanted to
enter RWA’s Golden Heart contest, I signed up.
I threw myself into the task of writing 50,000 words
on my first manuscript. A few days before the month
ended, I had 45,000 words written. What an
accomplishment! Plus, I had time to write 5,000 more.
Only, I didn’t. I looked at where I was and what I’d
written and decided I’d done what I’d needed to do. I’d
even entered the first 25 pages in a contest, hoping to get
additional feedback. Writing more just to finish
NaNoWriMo felt like it would be an undue burden based
on my other commitments. I understood the importance of
being flexible and taking care of all aspects of my life. I set
goals, yes, but I also knew I had the power modify them.
WHAT I LEARNED:
To be a writer, you should be driven, but you can
also be flexible. Setting a schedule or writing an outline
gives you a roadmap, but it doesn’t have to lock you in.
November 1-10, 2006
I learned more about what RWA had to offer,
including the National Conference, and the opportunity to
pitch to editors and agents. I was bummed I’d missed the
last conference, which had been in Reno. It had been so
close! I began looking into other conferences. One in
particular caught my eye. It was billed as a smaller
conference (about 60 people) with the chance to pitch to
one agent and one editor.
Attending the conference was a major stepping
stone for me personally. I hadn’t flown in five years
because I was afraid to. I rarely traveled and my husband
couldn’t understand why I’d fly to a writing conference
when I didn’t have a completed work to pitch. To him, it
seemed like a waste of money. However, something inside
me wouldn’t let it go. By now, I knew that being published
was going to be my ultimate goal. So, I signed up for the
conference, despite my fear of flying and despite my
husband’s inability to understand why I needed to.
WHAT I LEARNED: Pursuing writing, as with any
creative endeavor, will benefit you in other aspects of your
November 11, 2006
I made an appointment to pitch my story to an
editor and agent at the conference. While I anxiously
waited for my pitch appointment with the editor to start, I
chatted with a few other people. One lady offered to help
me practice my pitch, which I gladly took her up on.
Another woman told me that the attending editor had
gladly read someone’s pages, which she’d pulled up on her
phone, during her pitch appointment. I remembered that I
had a synopsis and the first 25 pages of my manuscript in
my hotel room (at a different hotel), the same ones I’d
entered in my first contest. Although I’d been advised not
to bring pages to a pitch, I decided to go back to my hotel
room and get them. Just in case.
When I told the editor about my story, she expressed
enough interest that I told her I had the pages. She said she
wanted to look at them. She scanned the synopsis right
there, favorably commenting on one point after another.
She then said she’d like to take the first 25 pages with her
and read them. My first pitch had gone very well.
The next morning, the editor caught me as I was
going into breakfast. She told me she loved the story, that I
wrote very well, and that she’d be disappointed if she
couldn’t acquire the story. She said an offer for the story
would likely be in the low five-figure range.
WHAT I LEARNED:
The women in RWA are passionate, talented,
supportive, and plain old fun to be around. You can take
risks and break the rules, and sometimes it will pay off.
November 13, 2006
So excited I could hardly think straight, I returned
home and immediately contacted two agents and queried
them about representation. I’d heard one agent speak at a
local RWA chapter meeting and had been very impressed
with her. (At this point, I’d joined five local RWA
chapters.) The second agent was a “hard hitter” and was
recommended by one of my crit partners. Unlike the first
agent, the second agent didn’t seem to have a problem
shopping a new author on a partial manuscript rather than
I heard back from both agents right away. Both
requested I send them the same synopsis and pages that
the editor had read. The first agent, however, wasn’t as
enthusiastic as I expected her to be. She asked whether I’d
had anything published, even e-published, and seemed
concerned that I hadn’t. In addition, she warned me that
the editor’s interest didn’t amount to a committed offer.
After reading my pages, the first agent said the story
wasn’t right for her. The second agent, however, emailed
me to say she liked what she was reading.
WHAT I LEARNED:
Just because you have interest in a book or what
seems like an offer, an agent won’t necessarily take you on.
November 13-29, 2006 (Over Thanksgiving Break)
I worked on finishing the manuscript to increase my
chances of getting an agent and a contract. I finished the
manuscript and sent it to the agent.
After receiving and reading the full manuscript, the
agent emailed me to tell me she thought it was great. We
set up a time to talk on the phone. During that call, she
asked if I was amenable to revisions (about 2 pages of
notes) because “she wanted to work with me.” I worked
on the revisions and sent the revised manuscript back to
her, along with a synopsis of my next manuscript. I also
told her the good news that my 25 pages had finaled in the
contest I’d entered. After one more round of revisions, the
agent told me she thought I’d done a great job. She said
she’d be able to submit the manuscript in the next week.
WHAT I LEARNED:
Sometimes, in combination with hard work, the
stars will align early on.
February 20, 2007
My agent submitted my manuscript to 10 editors at
major New York publishing houses.
I received two rejections on my manuscript on
March 6, 2007. I received others on March 9, 12, 15, 28, and
April 9, 2007. My agent verbally received two more
rejections and passed on the news. Every rejection felt like
a punch in the gut. Many of them were complimentary,
with the editors asking to see future projects. Overall,
however, the rejections were vague (as little as “not
compelling enough”) or inconsistent.
WHAT I LEARNED:
Heartache is a natural part of the business and
sometimes waiting to get a rejection is preferable to getting
several in a row.
February 20, 2007-June 12, 2007
My agent told me not to worry. I concentrated on
completing the second manuscript and brainstormed ideas
for the next story.
My agent assured me we would continue to work
until I sold. I turned in my second manuscript to my agent
and discussed my ideas for the next project. My agent told
me that she loved the second manuscript, didn’t think
anything had to be changed, and that she would submit
over the June 4th weekend. When that didn’t happen, I
nudged my agent, and she apologized, saying she was
buried with work. Since we hadn’t heard back from the
last editor who had the first manuscript (the same editor
I’d pitched to), I signed up for a pitch appointment with
her at the next National Conference.
WHAT I LEARNED:
You can survive rejection by moving forward and
continuing to work on the next project.
July (National RWA Conference) 2007
My agent was still so busy that she hadn’t yet had a
chance to submit my second manuscript. However, I met
with her at the RWA conference in Dallas, TX, and she
assured me I was doing everything that I should be.
Afterwards, I went to my pitch appointment with the
editor I had previously pitched to--the one that had been
interested in my book.
When I met with the editor, she sheepishly
apologized for not getting back to me and said she was
going to have to pass on the manuscript. She felt I’d
played it too safe in the end. I was disappointed, but I
nonetheless pitched her my second manuscript. She was
intrigued by the pitch. I told her I happened to have the
synopsis and first 80 pages with me. Since I was her last
appointment that day, the editor offered to sit down with
me and read my pages. We found some couches and she
read the pages and offered me feedback for two hours. She
loved what she read. She told me I had proven I could
accomplish what I hadn’t accomplished in the first
manuscript. When I told her I had the full manuscript
completed, she told me to send it to her immediately and
that she would walk it into her senior editor’s office herself.
WHAT I LEARNED:
Despite how good you think you are, you can
always improve. Despite setbacks, if you persist and
prepare, you will see positive results.
July 17, 2007
I told my agent about my successful pitch
appointment. I immediately polished and revised the
manuscript (ms2) based on the editor’s feedback and then
my agent emailed it to her.
A couple of days later, the editor emailed me
personally and said she was sorry, that she loved the story
and, if it was up to her, she would buy it. Ultimately,
however, her senior editor, who made the final decision,
hadn’t been as enthusiastic. She told me I had real talent
and not to give up.
I continued to work on manuscript three (ms3).
WHAT I LEARNED: Even if an editor wants to buy your
work, she might not be the editor who makes the decision.
July 2007-January 2008
My agent submitted my second manuscript to 9
editors at major New York publishing houses.
The rejections on the second manuscript came much
slower than they did on the first. I concentrated on
finishing ms3 and on brainstorming the next story. I ran
things by my agent, who was responsive, but getting less
so. Sometimes my emails would go unanswered and I
began to wonder if “she was still into me.” Several months
had passed and we had only received 3 rejections out of 9
submissions. My agent told me just to keep moving
forward, which I did. I completed my third manuscript
and sent it to her. Weeks went by and I didn’t hear
anything. When I asked her about it, she apologized and
said she was behind on her reading.
The more time that passed, the more convinced I
became that I wasn’t her priority. In fact, I knew this to be
true. This agent had several huge authors on her list. Even
though I understood they were her priority, I began to
wonder if I needed an agent who had more time for me. I
asked trusted friends, but everyone told me this was just
how the business worked and that I’d be crazy to leave
such a wonderful agent. I tended to agree with them. I
concentrated on writing the next book.
WHAT I LEARNED: Circumstances and individual needs
change. Pay attention to why you’re uncomfortable. Try to
make small changes before doing something drastic.
In the meantime, while I worked on my craft and
tried to stay inspired, I came up with an idea for a group
blog and asked two friends to join me. We worked on
getting our websites up and developing the group blog. I
would later learn that an editor who was interested in my
work checked out the blog in order to find out more about
WHAT I LEARNED: Sometimes, combining strengths with
others will get you through difficult times. It’s never too
early to prepare to be published
It had been 12 weeks since I’d given my agent my
third manuscript but I hadn’t heard from her yet. After
much agonizing, I emailed my agent and told her I was
honored to have been her client, but that I thought she was
too busy for me. I asked if she would mind recommending
me to a more junior agent.
After I sent my email, the agent’s assistant emailed
me back. She said my agent was out of town, but that
she’d gotten my email and wanted to recommend another
agent. I emailed this agent, who happened to be my
friend’s agent and was someone I was very interested in,
and emailed her my third manuscript. My former agent
later emailed me personally and said she was sorry things
hadn’t worked out between us. She conceded she was
extremely busy. She gave me referrals to two other agents,
invited me to the agency’s party at National, and said to let
her know if I ever needed anything.
WHAT I LEARNED: A situation that another person
envies still might not be the right situation for you. You
can get advice from others, but ultimately you have to trust
your instincts, even if everyone else thinks you're crazy
(and sometimes you do, too). Always try to act with
integrity and respect. It’s a small business and you need
every friend you can get.
While I waited for my targeted agent (Agent2) to
read my third manuscript, I sent a proposal of my first
manuscript to a category line at Harlequin. Subsequently, I
nudged Agent2, who said she was terribly behind. She
asked for my patience because she really wanted to finish
reading my manuscript.
Even though I didn’t have an agent, I sent proposals
of my manuscripts to two editors I met at the RWA
National Conference. Both requested full manuscripts. I
also sent some queries to a few other agents, just in case
Agent2 passed. One agent asked for a full manuscript.
Some passed. Agent2 emailed and said she had some
major structural revisions for the next manuscript and it
was up to me whether I wanted to do them. Of course, I
did. Luckily, I’d already anticipated most of changes based
on feedback I was receiving from the editors and agents I’d
recently queried. As such, it didn’t take me long to make
the revisions Agent2 wanted. I sent Agent2 the revised
manuscript. Agent2 offered to represent me on December
4, 2008, while I was on a family vacation in Disney World.
WHAT I LEARNED: Don’t rest on your laurels. There’s
always something you can do to benefit your career.
Having worked on a new manuscript for the
category line I was targeting, I sent Agent2 the full
manuscript. Agent2 submitted my already-completed
third manuscript to 8 editors at major New York
publishing houses. The rejections started coming in, one
To distract myself, I decided to try my hand at a
completely different kind of story. As Agent2 was nudging
editors for responses on manuscript three, she submitted
the full manuscript of the category story I had sent her.
Then, I sent her the full on my next project. My agent read
the beginning on the flight to a conference we were both
attending. When I saw her, she said she’d loved it. She
said when I had proposed writing a sexy contemporary
without any suspense, she wasn’t sure I could pull it off,
but that I had.
WHAT I LEARNED: Being well-read opens you up to
other possibilities. Constantly assess different ways to get
what you want because you may find you have talents for
I sat down with Agent2 at the conference to discuss
what my next step should be. She said she didn’t
understand why manuscript three had been rejected
because it was good, but that it was probably a result of the
market and the downturn in the economy. She said it was
getting harder to sell and that I should really try to make
my next project a BIG book that was part of a series. After
returning home, I began brainstorming big or high concept
ideas. In particular, I concentrated on what I loved to write
(suspense) and what several agents at the conference had
said the market was looking for—paranormal.
I wrote up about five different ideas and sent them
to my agent for her feedback. One idea had me
particularly excited, because it didn’t seem like something
that had been done before, at least not the way I envisioned
it. I began writing a proposal for the idea and found that I
absolutely loved writing paranormal suspense—a genre I
enthusiastically read but never thought I’d write.
WHAT I LEARNED: Listen to those who have more
experience than you, then do something meaningful with
their advice. Be willing to try new things.
April 21, 2009
I finished the proposal for my big series idea and
sent it to my agent. She read the proposal and said she
loved it, and that she’d called around. Editors were excited
about the idea. With her feedback, I polished the proposal
and sent it back to her. She then submitted the proposal to
The next day, I received an email from my agent.
She said that one editor (Editor2--an editor who’d read my
third manuscript and liked my writing) had read the
newest proposal overnight and LOVED it.
WHAT I LEARNED: Sometimes if it feels high concept, it is
April 30-May 30, 2009
We received some rejections on the newest proposal.
However, it was clear from the feedback that the editors
were more excited about this story than any of the ones I’d
written thus far. Editor2 got a strong second read and was
enthusiastic about the story, but confirmed she couldn’t
buy anything without having the full manuscript in hand.
She said she would give me revision notes if I was
amenable to seeing them. Of course, I was.
I wrote the rest of the manuscript and incorporated
the revisions that Editor2 wanted. I wrote the full quickly.
Likewise, my agent revised quickly. We both knew we had
hit something special and we didn’t want to lose
momentum or take the chance that someone else would
submit a similar story before I finished mine. Within three
weeks, my agent sent Editor2 a polished full manuscript.
WHAT I LEARNED: Sometimes, you need to put
everything else aside and concentrate solely on what you
need to do.
June 1-15, 2009
We soon heard that Editor2 loved the full
manuscript and had put it out for second reads. While we
waited, I learned that one of my fellow bloggers was
attending a conference put on by one of my favorite
authors. I’d wanted to go, but it was the same weekend as
my local chapter retreat.
At the conference, my fellow blogger pitched to an
editor and handed her a business card with the URL for
our group blog. It turns out, it was Editor2. Editor2 looked
at the card, smiled, and said, “I know Virna De Paul. I love
WHAT I LEARNED: People read your blogs and will
know who you are, so be professional and respectful.
June 16-24, 2009
Editor2 contacted my agent and told her she had full
editorial support for my manuscript. In other words, all
the editors loved it and she couldn’t be in a better position
to bring it in front of the publishing house’s acquisitions
Despite the editor’s love for the series, the
publishing house’s marketing department had concerns
about bringing on another debut paranormal author. They
were already launching three new authors and were afraid
bringing in another would detract from the others.
WHAT I LEARNED: You can have talent, connections, and
an editor who loves your book and wants to buy it and still
not sell. Bottom line: you need luck to sell a novel.
June 24, 2009
My agent forwarded me a great note from Editor2.
She said she was so disappointed not to have been able to
buy my book.
Editor2 said she was sure I’d sell to another house
and she offered to give me the revision notes she’d made
on the full manuscript. I gratefully (albeit, tearfully)
accepted and used those notes to make the manuscript
even stronger. My agent assured me she believed in me
and gave me permission to throw a pity party for the
night—then she said tomorrow I should get back to work.
WHAT I LEARNED: There are kind people who want to
help you even if they won’t get anything out of it.
I grieved. The next day, I brainstormed more ideas
and started to write a marketing plan that would help
publishers see how I could stand apart from other writers.
I submitted the plan to my agent. Even though I
wasn’t registered for the RWA National Conference in
Washington D.C. and couldn’t afford to register, I decided
to stay at the hotel during the conference and meet with
Editor2 and another editor whose read of a proposal I’d
bought on Brenda Novak’s online auction for diabetes. I
was able to talk to Editor2 about what other types of
projects she was looking for. I also got feedback from the
other editor on my proposal and she offered to look at it
again after I made revisions.
WHAT I LEARNED: When all seems lost, remind yourself
and others why you’re so special. Keep trying to make
connections. Life goes on, and so will you.
July 23, 2009
After I revised the full manuscript of the paranormal
that had been rejected by the marketing department of one
house, I sent it to my agent. My agent then submitted that
full manuscript to two additional editors.
While I waited, I decided to work on another series
based on what I’d learned at conference. I wrote a
proposal for a new manuscript that I was excited about. In
the meantime, I learned that an editor who had the full
paranormal (Editor3) had loved it and was getting a second
WHAT I LEARNED: There’s always a new story in me.
My agent submitted the new proposal to Editor2.
Although she thought it was very well written, Editor2 said
it wasn’t what they were looking for at the time. I
brainstormed another idea, this one another paranormal. I
wrote up a proposal.
My agent loved the new paranormal proposal and
sent it to Editor2. Although Editor2 didn’t love it as much
as she’d loved my previous paranormal series, it prompted
her to talk to another editor who’d loved my work, as well.
This editor was the head of a category line and indicated
she’d be very interested in establishing the first paranormal
series (the one that marketing had shot down) for that line.
She asked my agent if I was willing to trim a single title
into a category book.
WHAT I LEARNED: Hard work doesn’t always glean the
results you want, but it will pay off somehow; if you
persevere, people will remember you and take you
November 16-18, 2009
Because I had no problem starting my career in
category and building a readership, and because I loved
the paranormal series so much and knew the editors who
were interested would do it justice, I shortened the
manuscript from 104,000 words to 76,000 words. I sent the
manuscript to my agent. Then, I decided, I was ready for a
On November 18, 2009, Agent2 called me and said
Editor3 had made an offer on the single title version of the
paranormal series. The call came when I was least
expecting it. I was thrilled. Beyond thrilled. However, as
excited as I was, it didn’t feel real. It wouldn’t truly sink in
for several weeks. By then, I needed to begin working on
the next book.
WHAT I LEARNED: Sometimes it’s about the last man
standing. Or, in this case, the last writer standing. Even as
you celebrate one accomplishment, keep your eye on the
next challenge ahead.