Waaay back in a galaxy far, far away, where computers and “social networks,” were relegated to the government, big corporations and their ilk discussing how to take over the world during lunch at the 4 Seasons, (still happens) when writers tapped out their prose on typewriters, used carbon paper for copies, and connected with their readers through letters that they stuck in envelopes, put a stamp on it and mailed them—well that’s when I started writing. (Damn, how old is she? To which I respond—old enough to remember). I say all of this to say, that it has been 21 years that I have been in print—successful by some standards. But longevity was not an accident.
When I began writing, there was no such thing as “African American” romance, or the “black section,” of a bookstore or library. I felt very excited but very alone when my novel ROOMS OF THE HEART, was published in 1990. At that time there was less than a handful of black romances ever published—period. But it wasn’t long before I discovered that there were those who wanted me to succeed and that there were other writers out there just like me that wanted to be published.
One of the first people in the industry to mentor me was Carol Stacy at Romantic Times Magazine. She was kind but blunt and wanted me to decide if I was in it to make a career or be a one-book wonder. She got me onto the Geraldo Rivera Show as an audience member when he was discussing romances! That is where I met Sandra Kitt, the first real-live writer I’d ever known. Sandra became my second mentor and formally introduced me into the world of writers from inviting me to her home for writer gatherings to getting me to go to one of my early writers conferences, where I ultimately met Monica Harris who would later become my editor at Kensington Publishing, whose job became Karen Thomas’ who in turn allowed me to write my first mainstream novel. In the interim the Arabesque line at Kensington was purchased by BET and three of my novels were adapted for television. Having written mainstream fiction ala Karen Thomas, that opportunity opened the door for me at St. Martins Press where I got my first hardcover contract under Glenda Howard, and then Monique Patterson. And to come full circle Glenda is now my editor again at Harlequin. Through it all, I worked to maintain strong professional relationships with each of them, and not only with my editors, but other writers as well.
Why am I telling you all of this? These were the building blocks of my career. I didn’t write a book and get “discovered” and make millions of dollars. It was a process, a process built on trust and loyalty and networking and building friendships that have sustained me for 21 years.
There isn’t anything quite as important in your writing career than forming honest relationships with industry professionals. You do that by being a professional. By being good at what you do. By treating your writing as an art and a business and not a hobby. By being willing to take advice. Willing to do things for others for free. By letting the quality of your name become your brand.
If you got into the writing game to see your name in print, to get rich and famous, then this is not the business for you. As with any art, you have to love it. You have to want it. And you have to be willing to stick with it even when you don’t make the NY Times list.
What you want to ask yourself at the end of the day is: what do I want the literary world to think of me when they hear my name? The answer is up to you.